With less than a month to go before it must present a plan to the full Congress, the Joint Deficit Reduction "super committee" held its fifth public meeting today.
The twelve-member panel hears about previous debt proposals from former Senators Alan Simpson and Pete Domenici, and former Clinton Administration officials Erskine Bowles and Alice Rivlin. All have participated in past deficit reduction talks.
During opening statements, witnesses offered little optimism for the committee working in a strained political environment. Bowles said he fears the "super committee" will "fail the country." Simpson warned the committee members about listening to special interests. "If Grover Norquist is the most powerful man in American then… he should run for president," Simpson said referring to the anti-tax advocate.
Bowles said four main categories are driving up the deficit: health care costs, defense spending, an "inefficient" tax system and interest. All four witnesses said that in order to reduce the deficit, spending cuts must be partnered with raising revenue.
The select bipartisan, 12-member House-Senate committee was charged with proposing $1.2 trillion of long-term deficit reduction by November 23rd.
The joint panel was formed by debt-ceiling legislation signed by President Obama in early August. Three Democrats and three Republicans from each chamber serve on the committee.
Senate Democrats are represented by Sens. Murray (WA), Baucus (MT), and Kerry (MA). The Senate GOP has Sens. Kyl (AZ), Toomey (PA), and Portman (OH). House Democrats are represented by Reps. Clyburn (SC), Van Hollen (MD), and Becerra (CA), while House Republicans on the committee are Reps. Hensarling (TX), Camp (MI), and Upton (MI). Sen. Murray and Rep. Hensarling are the co-chairs of the joint committee.
Any recommendations would have to be voted on by the full House and Senate under special rules. If the joint committee or Congress fail to act by December 23, the bill calls for automatic across-the-board cuts, split 50-50 between defense and non-defense spending, including Medicare. Social Security and Medicaid would be excluded from the automatic cuts.
The plan also requires the House and Senate to vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, which would require a 2/3 majority in both houses. That vote must take place by December 31, 2011.