One day after Harry Reid's selections for the debt-reduction super-committee were reported, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have revealed their picks: From the House, Jeb Hensarling (who will serve as co-chairman), Dave Camp, and Fred Upton. From the Senate, Jon Kyl, Rob Portman, and Pat Toomey. So what do these appointments tell us?
Some may focus on the inclusion of Toomey, a freshman Tea Partier who voted against raising the debt ceiling last week, as a sign that the GOP isn't very interested in compromise. But McConnell probably had to appoint at least one debt-ceiling no vote, if only to disprove the Weekly Standard's claim that any GOP senator who voted against the debt-ceiling deal would be "ineligible" to serve on the committee.
The key to the entire committee, however, could be Portman, the Ohio senator who previously spent a year as George W. Bush's budget director — not exactly a great thing to have on your resume when reducing the debt, instead of ballooning it, is the objective. Here's the thing, though: There will be six Democrats and six Republicans on the committee, which is tasked with finding another $1.5 trillion in savings. It'll take seven votes to approve a debt-reduction plan and send it to the full Congress for approval, which means at least one member will have to cross over and join the other side.
Democrats, after failing to secure any revenue increases in the initial debt-ceiling deal, will be even more determined to get them this time around. Which means it's very likely that the only way the committee can approve a plan is if one of the GOP members is willing to support some kind of tax increase — likely through the elimination of various exemptions in the tax code. That Republican could very well be Portman. According to the Columbus Dispatch yesterday:
Portman said tax increases, particularly while the economy is ailing, should not be part of the deficit fix, but he did not oppose raising revenue by getting rid of tax “preferences,” including certain loopholes, credits, deductions and exclusions. Some conservatives see eliminating them as backdoor tax hikes.
Calling himself “a hawk on tax reform,” Portman said the supercommittee has an opportunity to reform the tax code, “get rid of the stuff that doesn’t make sense and lower the rates.”
“Tax reform ought to be done,” he said. “It will generate more revenue.”
Maybe this committee isn't headed inexorably toward deadlock after all?