Is America’s Fiscal Future Safe in These Hands?

As part of the Budget Control Act passed this month, a twelve-member Join Committee on Deficit Reduction has been charged with recommending at least $1.5 trillion in additional deficit reduction over the next decade.  They have until November 23 to make their recommendations.

The committee’s recommendations will then be put to a simple up-or-down vote by Congress, with no amendments, filibusters, etc. allowed.  The recommendations have to be passed by December 23 otherwise a $1.2 trillion package of automatic spending cuts would come into effect.

Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction

The Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction.  Top row are members of the House of Representatives: Co-chair Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Dave Camp (R-MI), Fred Upton (R-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Xavier Becerra (D-CA).  Bottom row are members of the Senate: Co-chair Patty Murray (D-WA), John Kerry (D-MA), Max Baucus (D-GA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Rob Portman (R-OH).

First question on my mind: Do these twelve congresspeople sufficiently represent America?  They are overwhelmingly white (83% vs. about 66% in the general population) and male (92% vs. 50% in the general population).  Now, I realize that a committee of twelve national politicians will not necessary mirror the United States population, nor do they need to.  But it seems that when we talk about “sacrifices” in the budget, these sacrifices are disproportionately borne by women, children, and people of color. 

The public schools in the wealthy suburbs seem to face fewer cutbacks than the inner city schools.  The unemployed factory worker seems to run out of resources long before the unemployed hedge fund manager.  And considering that you have to be at least 25 years old to run for the House of Representatives, is anyone looking out for the interests of the infants and children who will end up inheriting the results of any deficit reduction legislation?

Second question on my mind: With the committee evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, what is the likelihood that they will actually reach a compromise?  The six members of the House of Representatives are up for election in just over a year, so they will be careful not to rile their base. 

Of the six Senators, one of the Republicans (Kyl) has announced he will retire at the end of his term.  The other two Republicans were just elected in 2010 so they have time to repair any damage with their base that comes from compromising or, from a Tea Partier’s view, selling out.  Among the Democrats, Murray was just elected in 2010 and the other two Democrats do not face re-election until 2014.

Is there some hope that at least one Senator will cross over the line on the “no new revenues” position so that a balanced approach of spending cuts and revenue increases can be found?  While I’d like to hope that the Senators can rise above partisanship and make some sound decisions, nothing I’ve seen recently gives me any reason for optimism.

Additional Reading: OpenCongress.org article about key budget, spending, and tax votes of the committee members.