By Nicole Gaudiano
August 2, 2011
Having narrowly averted the nation's first ever default, Congress now turns to the creation of a "super committee" tasked with cutting deficits by an additional $1.5 trillion.
For Delaware's Democratic senators, the question of who should serve on that powerful 12-member committee is partly already answered: the group of senators known as the "Gang of Six."
The six senators -- Senate Minority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla. -- released a quickly overshadowed plan last month to cut deficits by $3.6 trillion over 10 years through a combination of spending cuts, changes to entitlement programs and a simplification of the tax code.
Delaware Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons favor their plan, which builds on the recommendations of the president's deficit reduction commission last year.
"They know these issues inside out, so there's no learning curve," Carper said Tuesday. "They know how to get to an agreement. And that's the kind of people we need."
Coons said, "If instead, leadership chooses to appoint six different senators who haven't gone through that time working together, I think we just start 20 yards back off the field."
Carper and Coons both voted Tuesday in favor of legislation to raise the country's borrowing limit through 2013 and cut more than $2 trillion over the next 10 years from deficits. The bill, which passed the Senate 74-26, was signed into law Tuesday evening. Rep. John Carney, D-Del., voted in favor during the House vote Monday.
The plan achieves deficit reduction in two stages. The first is an immediate cap on spending that will generate $1 trillion in savings. In the second stage, the bipartisan "super committee" made up of six senators and six House members will identify $1.5 trillion in savings, including from mandatory spending programs and tax reform.
The committee members, likely to be selected by congressional leaders in the next couple of weeks, must report back to Congress with legislation by Nov. 23, and Congress must vote on the committee's recommendations by Dec. 23.
If the committee fails to reach an agreement, that will trigger automatic spending reductions in defense and domestic spending. Social Security, Medicare and low-income programs would be protected from automatic cuts.
"That's motivation for both sides to find cuts and eliminate programs that are not working," Carney said.
Carney said he hopes House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi selects someone from the New Democrats Coalition, a moderate group of which he's a member. He also hopes "Gang of Six" senators will serve on the committee, saying their plan offers a "balanced" approach.
Not many details have been publicly released on the "Gang of Six" plan. It would cut spending and raise revenue by a ratio of three to one. It would raise about $1.2 trillion in new revenue over 10 years by eliminating tax loopholes while lowering corporate and individual tax rates.
Carper thinks the reason the plan went nowhere initially was because congressional leaders didn't embrace it. President Barack Obama got behind it when it was announced, but Carper said he asked Obama personally why it took him so long. Obama told him it was part of his negotiating strategy with Republicans.
"I wish he could have gotten there a month or so sooner," Carper said, laughing. "But that's water over the dam."
Carper said he wished lawmakers could have agreed on a bigger plan, using the "Damocles" of default to get something done. Whether the committee will reach a substantial agreement will depend on who serves on it, he said.
Carper said it would be "reasonable" for the committee to ask people whose income is more than $1 million to pay a "somewhat higher marginal" tax rate. If they can't reach an agreement on income taxes, they could target tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy, he said.
Coons also said the committee needs to find a way to raise total federal revenue.
"The best way to do that is by helping the private sector create jobs and one way to do that is through tax reform that makes us more competitive," he said. "But I also think we need to be looking for a greater contribution from those, both individuals and companies, who have been phenomenally successful over the last decade. I don't think a balanced and fair package that cuts spending significantly across the board can be accomplished without also raising some revenue."