Nation & World

Washington state's Murray will co-chair deficit 'super' panel

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday tapped Sens. Patty Murray, John Kerry and Max Baucus as his three choices for the so-called "super committee" that was created to cut more than $1 trillion in federal spending by year's end.

Murray, D-Wash, Kerry, D-Mass., and Baucus, D-Mont., will join nine yet-to-be-named lawmakers chosen by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to round out a congressional committee that was spawned from last week's deal to raise the federal debt ceiling.

Murray, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the Senate leadership, will become a co-chair of the committee. Boehner will select the other co-chair.

The panel will be charged with devising a plan to reduce federal budget deficits by more than $1 trillion.

In Washington, it's being called a "super committee," and it promises to be the most closely watched congressional panel for the remainder of the year.

Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, which President Barack Obama signed last week, the panel must make its recommendations by late November. Then the House of Representatives and the Senate must vote on the package by Dec. 23. If all that doesn't result in at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, automatic spending cuts would take effect in 2013.

Even though the committee isn't officially up and running, it's already under tremendous pressure from lobbyists and interest groups.

The committee is also under pressure from other lawmakers, who don't like the idea of a handpicked few making major budgetary decisions, and by watchdog groups, who are pleading for transparency from the committee.

"Creating a 12-person super committee to do the job of 535 elected representatives is yet another indication of a broken political system in dire need of repair," Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said in a statement Tuesday. "That is why it will be critically important for virtually every vote, every hearing and every deliberation to be completely transparent and available for the public to see."

The Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group, agrees.

"Since this committee has been granted enormous power to determine the future of the country, the public should demand accountable, transparent proceedings," .foundation co-founder and executive director Ellen Miller said last week. "We are at a crossroads. Congress should break with the secretive process that has led us to the point where we are now and ensure the new joint committee does its work in full public view."

Once the committee gets to work, many Democrats are arguing that tax increases should be part of the package as a way to avoid deep spending cuts in social programs. Most Republicans say tax increases shouldn't be part of the plan.

Reid said that all three senators he selected "posses an expertise in budget matters, a commitment to a balanced approach and a track record of forging bipartisan consensus."

"As the events of the past week have made clear, the world is watching the work of this committee," Reid said. "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."

His three choices later released a joint statement that described the important work the panel faces and noted, "This is not going to be easy. Our challenge is to find common ground without damaging anyone's principles.� We believe we can get there.� This committee was designed to require bipartisanship, and we are going to work hard with our Republican colleagues to attain it. We know Americans will stand by us if we work together to tackle our debt and deficit and help get our economy back on track."

Murray's selection is a continuation of her high-profile role on Capitol Hill. In January she was named the chairwoman of the Veterans Affairs' Committee, and she's heading the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is in charge of recruiting and helping to fund Democratic Senate candidates for 2012.

Baucus is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


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