United States Congress Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction

United States Congress Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction,[1] colloquially referred to as the Supercommittee, is a joint select committee of the United States Congress, created by the Budget Control Act of 2011 on August 2, 2011. The act was intended to prevent the rapid process of sovereign default that would have resulted from the 2011 United States debt-ceiling crisis,[2] and has been interpreted as a reaction to frustration over prolonged partisan political disputes during an uncertain economy struggling to recover from the late-2000s recession.[3]


Historical precedents

The committee is an unusual construct in the American federal legislative system, created after weeks of difficult negotiations,[4] although it has a partial precedent in the Base Realignment and Closure process.[5][6] Senate historian Donald Ritchie found inexact parallels between the Joint Select Committee and various joint committees, and with the exception of the 1946–1977 Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, he noted that what makes this committee different is its ability to write and report out legislation.[4]

Structure and membership

The committee comprises twelve members of Congress, six from the House of Representatives and six from the Senate, with each delegation evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.[7] Three members each were appointed by the Speaker and Minority Leader of the House and the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate.[1][8] Two of the members are designated as co-chairs, one each by the Senate Majority Leader and by the House Speaker.[1] The law does not require that either chair be from a specific house or a specific party. The Los Angeles Times predicted before the committee was constituted that the "most important players" in the process would be the four leaders selecting the twelve committee members.[9]


On August 9, Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, announced the Senate's Democratic members of the committee.[10] Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the Republican appointments to the committee from both houses on August 10, 2011.[11] House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced her choices the following day.[12]

Democrats Republicans
Senate members
House members

Murray is the Senate Democratic Conference Secretary, the chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs; Hensarling is vice-chair of the House Committee on Financial Services, chairman emeritus of the Republican Study Committee, and House Republican Conference Chair.

Kerry and Baucus are both chairs of standing Senate committees (Foreign Relations and Finance, respectively), members of the Senate Finance Committee and among the ten most senior members of the U.S. Senate. Kyl is Senate Minority Whip. Toomey is a member of the Joint Economic Committee. Portman, who became a U.S. Senator in January, is a former Director of the Office of Management and Budget and a former U.S. Trade Representative.

Camp is the Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Joint Committee on Taxation. Upton is the Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Clyburn is the third-ranking House Democrat. Becerra is the ranking member of the Ways and Means Social Security Subcomittee and is Vice-Chair of the House Democratic Caucus. Van Hollen is the former chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the ranking member of the House Budget Committee.

Two of the Republican members and two Democrats served on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, with all four voting against the Simpson-Bowles plan.[13]


The Budget Control Act increased the debt ceiling by $400 billion in August 2011. Concurrently, it requires the federal government to make $917 billion in spending cuts over a ten-year period as a first installment,[2] in keeping with estimates from the Congressional Budget Office[14] that assume that the current laws will stay the same, including the expiration of the Bush tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 that were extended for two years in 2010. Under the plan, government revenues are projected to rise after 2012.[15]


The committee is charged with issuing a recommendation by November 23, 2011 for at least $1.5 trillion in additional deficit reduction steps to be undertaken over a ten‐year period.[4][8][16] This would be the second installment of deficit reduction measures. Possible areas to be examined by the committee include: revenue increases, including raising taxes; tax reforms, such as simplifying the tax code and eliminating some tax breaks and loopholes; military spending cuts; and measures to reform and slow the growth of entitlement programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.[15] According to White House economics adviser Gene Sperling, "everything is on the table."[17]

Congressional vote

The committee's recommendations would then be put to a simple up or down vote by Congress by December 23, 2011.[4] This vote is not subject to amendments, House "majority of the majority" blocks, or Senate filibusters, thus guaranteeing a pure majority vote in both chambers.[8][4][1] Commentators note that a single instance of one member deviating from their party's economic program would lead to a seven-member majority,[18] and cause the plan to advance.[9] If the committee fails to agree on a package or the full Congress fails to pass it, a so-called "trigger mechanism" would enact $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts to serve as the second installment of deficit reduction measures.[8] These cuts would be split between the national security and domestic arenas,[8] but the biggest entitlement programs would be excluded from these automatic cuts.[9] One report suggests that the prospect of these across-the-board cuts would "give leverage to any faction that cares more about cutting spending than about increasing revenues or protecting the defense budget."[9]

A second debt ceiling increase of $500 billion is slated to go into effect regardless of whether Congress passes the joint committee's proposal, but subject to a congressional resolution of disapproval if the proposal is not passed.[citation needed] Together, the two increases in the debt ceiling allow borrowing to continue at projected levels until January 2013, beyond the 2012 presidential election.

Debate over merit


Representative Rob Andrews of New Jersey supports the idea as a way to "avoid a default" although he expressed concerns that it would take too long for lawmakers to learn the "nuances of Medicare and Medicaid" with respect to intricate reimbursement formulas.[4] Supporters believe that the prospect of imminent across–the–board spending cuts if the committee's measures were not adopted would be sufficiently "distasteful to lawmakers" to prompt them to act[4] and to impart a "strong incentive for bipartisan agreement."[15]


Criticism of the committee arrangement includes comments from lawmakers concerned by how rapidly the Budget Control Act legislation was put together; they objected to having little time to review the rules by which the committee would operate, and to the lack of input on the mechanism from public hearings or debate.[19] Legislators from both parties expressed concern that the arrangement will "usurp their authority to write and revise legislation."[4] Presidential candidate Representative Ron Paul suggested that members of Congress might be under "tremendous pressure" to vote for whatever emerges from the committee regardless of worthiness.[20] Huffington Post critic R. W. Sanders said that it was an unelected committee with power to "effectively run our country" and possibly issue budget cuts which will "basically go unchallenged."[21] Conn Carroll suggested the committee will not lead to any "meaningful entitlement reform".[22] Senator Menendez predicted that the committee would become deadlocked since the most likely appointments would be a "stacked deck" of members opposed to new revenues or program cuts.[4] An analysis in the New York Times suggested the committee was similar to other "blue-ribbon panels" during the past seventy years as a way to "give political cover to policy makers to make unpopular changes" but noted that in most cases, Congress ignored the proposals or procrastinated.[4] And there is the prospect that a future Congress could override any decisions made since one Congress cannot "bind another."[4][23] A variety of watchdog groups, including Public Campaign and MoveOn.org, are concerned that lobbyists will influence what happens, and asked that lawmakers disclose meetings with lobbyists and refrain from political fundraising during the selection process.[24][24] The Standard & Poor's rating agency is pessimistic about any chance for serious fiscal reform; that agency downgraded the nation's credit rating from AAA to AA+, and wrote:

... The downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges ... (we are) pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government's debt dynamics any time soon. The outlook on the long-term rating is negative.
—Standard & Poor's, August 2011[25]

Analyst Fareed Zakaria predicted the committee would deadlock without a majority favoring a specific plan,[23] and wrote:

It's a punt. I mean, it's one more occasion where Congress has basically punted, kicked the can down the road, use what metaphor you want. It cuts $21 billion out of the 2012 budget, which is the only budget over which this Congress actually has any authority ... The Democrats are saying no cuts to entitlements. The Republicans are saying no taxes. That's great except we all know the only solution to our long-term debt problem is cuts in entitlements and new taxes.[23]

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said in the August 11, 2011 Republican presidential debate:

I think this super committee is about as dumb an idea as Washington has come up with in my lifetime. I used to run the House of Representatives. I have some general notion of these things. The idea that 523 senators and congressmen are going to sit around for four months while 12 brilliant people, mostly picked for political reasons, are going to sit in some room and brilliantly come up with a trillion dollars, or force us to choose between gutting our military and accepting a tax increase, is irrational. They're going to walk in just before Thanksgiving and say, 'All right, we can shoot you in the head or cut off your right leg, which do you prefer?' What they ought to do is scrap the committee right now, recognize it's a dumb idea, go back to regular legislative business, assign every subcommittee the task of finding savings. Do it out in the open through regular legislative order and get rid of this secret phony business.[26]


  1. ^ a b c d S. 365: Public Law 112-25, Title IV
  2. ^ a b "Obama signs debt bill into law". Politico. August 2, 2011. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0811/60503.html. Retrieved August 3, 2011. 
  3. ^ Silverleib, Alan; Cohen, Tom (July 31, 2011). "White House, congressional leaders reach debt deal". CNN Politics. http://articles.cnn.com/2011-07-31/politics/debt.talks_1_debt-ceiling-debt-deal-deficit-reduction?_s=PM:POLITICS. Retrieved August 5, 2011. "... frustration over partisan political wrangling that threatened further economic harm to an already struggling recovery." 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Pear, Robert; Rampell, Catherine (August 1, 2011). "Lawmakers in Both Parties Fear That New Budget Panel Will Erode Authority". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/02/us/politics/02panel.html?pagewanted=all. Retrieved August 5, 2011. "Lawmakers from both parties expressed scorn on Monday for a central feature of the deficit-reduction deal that creates a powerful 12-member committee of Congress to recommend major changes in entitlement programs and the tax code. ..." 
  5. ^ DeFrank, Thomas (July 31, 2011). "President Obama says Republican, Dem leaders have reached agreement with him to raise debt ceiling". New York Daily News. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/2011/07/31/2011-07-31_president_obama_says_republican_dem_leaders_have_reached_agreement_with_him_to_r.html#ixzz1TlenyDGT. 
  6. ^ Walker, Molly Bernhart (August 9, 2011). "Backgrounder: Super Congress". FierceGovernment. http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/backgrounder-super-congress/2011-08-09. Retrieved August 10, 2011. 
  7. ^ "Makeup of deficit-reduction 'supercommittee' set". usatoday.com. August 11, 2011. http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2011-08-10-Super-Committee-deficit-reduction-appointees_n.htm. Retrieved August 30, 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Brownstein, Ronald (August 5, 2011). "Bold Is Beautiful: The Super Committee Offers a Glimmer of Hope". National Journal. http://www.nationaljournal.com/columns/political-connections/bold-is-beautiful-the-super-committee-offers-a-glimmer-of-hope-20110804. 
  9. ^ a b c d Times' Opinion staff (August 4, 2011). "Deficit reduction: Who matters now in Washington?". Los Angeles Times. http://opinion.latimes.com/opinionla/2011/08/deficit-the-most-important-players-in-washington.html. Retrieved August 5, 2011. "That means the most important players will be the four people picking the 12 lawmakers who'll be conducting those talks: Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) in the House, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in the Senate." 
  10. ^ "Nine spots left to be filled on deficit-reduction 'super committee'". CNN. August 9, 2011. http://www.cnn.com/2011/POLITICS/08/10/debt.committee.appointments/. Retrieved August 10, 2011. "Reid said in a statement that Murray was tapped to co-chair the committee. 'As the events of the past week have made clear, the world is watching the work of this committee. I am confident that Senators Murray, Baucus and Kerry will bring the thoughtfulness, bipartisanship and commitment to a balanced approach that will produce the best outcome for the American people,' he said." 
  11. ^ "Boehner names his 'super committee' trio". MSNBC.com. August 10, 2011. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44088093/ns/politics-capitol_hill/. Retrieved August 10, 2011. 
  12. ^ Madison, Lucy (August 11, 2011). "Pelosi reveals "super committee" picks". CBS News. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20091253-503544.html. 
  13. ^ Riley, Charles (August 11, 2011). "Super committee: Who are these guys?". CNNMoney.com (CNN). http://money.cnn.com/2011/08/11/news/economy/debt_committee_members/. Retrieved August 11, 2011. 
  14. ^ Muskal, Michael (August 1, 2011). "CBO confirms that debt-ceiling plan would cut $2.1 trillion". Los Angeles Times. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/aug/01/news/la-pn-debt-ceiling-cbo-20110802. Retrieved August 5, 2011. "The second step in the process would come from the Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, a special congressional committee that would be mandated with finding $1.5 trillion in spending cuts. If the committee fails to find that amount, there would be an automatic trigger chopping $1.2 trillion. The budget office used the smaller figure to reach the $2.1 trillion total." 
  15. ^ a b c Pear, Robert (August 4, 2011). "Bush tax cuts loom as next battleground in fight over deficit". Boston Globe. http://articles.boston.com/2011-08-04/news/29851402_1_tax-cuts-spending-cuts-nonmilitary-programs. Retrieved August 5, 2011. "Congressional leaders say this panel has a better chance than many of its predecessors because the debt deal creates a strong incentive for bipartisan agreement: If the committee fails to agree or to win approval for a plan from the House and the Senate, the government will automatically cut at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years from hundreds of military and nonmilitary programs." 
  16. ^ Wessel, David (August 3, 2011). "Can the Super Committee Raise Taxes or Not?". The Wall Street Journal. http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2011/08/03/can-the-super-committee-raise-taxes-or-not. Retrieved August 5, 2011. "The Budget Control Act says: "The goal of the joint committee shall be to reduce the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over the period of fiscal years 2012 to 2021." It also says that the Congressional Budget Office shall provide estimates of the impact of the committee’s proposal s that are based on current law, and, under current law, all the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2012." 
  17. ^ Sterling, Gene. "Baselines and Balance". The White House Blog. http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/08/01/baselines-and-balance. Retrieved 2011-08-31. 
  18. ^ Weigel, David (July 30, 2011). "Don't Worry, It Gets Worse". Slate Magazine. http://www.slate.com/id/2300299. Retrieved August 5, 2011. "Members of the panel, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, will be named within two weeks and will have until Nov. 23 to recommend cuts. If it fails to reach agreement or if Congress and the president kill its recommendations, $1.2 trillion in cuts would be implemented automatically." 
  19. ^ Raju, Manu; Allen, Jonathan (August 2, 2011). "Debt ceiling debate has lawmakers tired of last-minute jam". Politico. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0811/60427.html. 
  20. ^ ""Super Congress" is Most Disturbing Component of the Debt Deal". Business Insider. August 3, 2011. http://www.businessinsider.com/super-congress-is-most-disturbing-component-of-the-debt-deal-2011-8?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+businessinsider+%28Business+Insider%29. Retrieved August 5, 2011. "This guarantees that Members will face tremendous pressure to vote for whatever comes out of this commission." 
  21. ^ Sanders, R. W. (August 2, 2011). "The Super Congress We Did Not Elect". Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rw-sanders/the-super-congress-we-did_b_914635.html. Retrieved August 5, 2011. "I don't remember ever having elected a Super Congress. However, apparently there will be a committee of twelve that will effectively run our country. This "Super Congress" of twelve will recommend cuts that will basically go unchallenged. ..." 
  22. ^ Carroll, Conn (August 2, 2011). "Morning Examiner: No good can come from the Super Congress". Washington Examiner. http://washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/beltway-confidential/2011/08/morning-examiner-no-good-can-come-super-congress?utm_source=feedburner+BeltwayConfidential&utm_medium=feed+Beltway+Confidential&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+BeltwayConfidential+%28Beltway+Confidential%29feed&utm_content=feed&utm_term=feed. Retrieved August 5, 2011. "And there is little chance that the "Super Congress" committee of 12 created by the bill will produce any meaningful entitlement reform." 
  23. ^ a b c Zakaria, Fareed (August 4, 2011). "Zakaria: Super committee will likely deadlock". CNN World. http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2011/08/04/zakaria-super-committee-will-likely-deadlock. Retrieved August 5, 2011. "No. It's a punt. I mean, it's one more occasion where Congress has basically punted, kicked the can down the road, use what metaphor you want. It cuts $21 billion out of the 2012 budget, which is the only budget over which this Congress actually has any authority." 
  24. ^ a b Schouten, Fredreka (August 04, 2011). "Groups: Limit lobbying of deficit committee". USA Today. http://content.usatoday.com/communities/onpolitics/post/2011/08/debt-limit-lobbying/1. Retrieved August 5, 2011. "Congressional leaders haven't picked the 12 members of the uniquely powerful "super-committee" that will recommend $1.5 trillion in spending cuts to reduce the deficit, but watchdog groups want to limit the influence of industry lobbyists on their work." 
  25. ^ "S & P statement on U.S. debt downgrade". CBS News. August 5, 2011. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/08/05/national/main20088952.shtml. Retrieved August 5, 2011. "Standard & Poor's issued a statement Friday about their downgrade of U.S. debt…" 
  26. ^ Newt Gingrich: Super committee a 'dumb' idea

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