Q: What is a Super Committee?
A: The Super Committee is charged with developing a plan to reduce federal spending by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 fiscal years. Its plan must be submitted before Thanksgiving and approved by the congress and the president before Christmas. Failing to meet these benchmarks, there will be an automatic sequester of funds from domestic and national security agencies equal to the Super Committee’s shortfall.
The committee is a unique inversion of the legislative process. Typically, a reconciliation committee is created with representatives from the House and Senate to cobble together a single bill from differently worded, but similarly purposed bills that have passed each chamber. If the reconciliation bill passed both chambers it is presented to the president for signature.
The fast-track feature to the 12-member Super Committee is that because it is in effect a reconciliation committee with three senators and congressman from each party formed before each chamber has approved its own bill. The committee also has special procedural rules, which make it immune to filibuster and not subject dependent on the Speaker’s consent to be brought to the House floor for a vote.
As the Super Committee begins its work, pro-growth conservatives are watching Pennsylvania’s freshman senator and counting on him to hold the line against new taxes and make real cuts in current spending.
“I’ve been adamant all along, and I will continue to be, that whatever we do on this Super Committee has to be pro-growth,” said Sen.Pat Toomey, (R.-Penn.), who from 2004 to 2009 was the president of the Club for Growth, an organization and companion political action committee founded to support economically conservative candidates and to remove socio-economic engineering from the tax code and the federal budget.
“Cutting spending is itself: pro-growth,” he said. “We will have a stronger economy if the government spends less money—in the other areas we are looking at the important thing for me is that everything we do encourages economic growth and job creation.”
Toomey said he is aware eyes are trained upon him as the principled economic conservative on the inside. “I certainly feel an obligation to be consistent with the ideas and principles that I have defended and participated in for many years.”
Brian H. Darling, a senior fellow of government affairs at the Heritage Foundations said, “Of the six Republicans on the Super Committee, Senator Toomey is the early warning system for conservatives.
Darling said Toomey’s commitment to his principles is a safeguard against the committee doing more harm than good behind closed doors.
“The Super Committee is already proving to be secretive in the details of what is going to be in the final legislation for the House and Senate. Conservatives will have to rely on Senator Toomey to see if the final plan is something conservatives can ultimately support,” he said.
The senator, who is a Rhode Island-raised Harvard graduate, said he is cautiously optimistic about the prospects of the committee’s success, but he wanted to be even more cautious discussing specifics. He would not discuss specific programs he was targeting for elimination or steep reductions, but he did say that recent working groups and committees have been over much of this terrain before and in those sessions consensus cuts have emerged that could be consummated by the committee.
There are both many moving pieces and low hanging fruit, he said.
Many on Capitol Hill believe Toomey is capable fashioning a larger package of cuts and reforms that both simplify and broaden the federal tax code and streamline agencies, so that there are cuts greater than the minimum coupled with greater efficiencies. This theme is captured in the current buzz phrase: “Go big or Go home.”
“We have got a great chance in front of us, but if this was easy, it would have been done already and we wouldn’t need this committee,” Toomey said. “That said, I think there is a greater sense of urgency than in any time in my entire experience in public life.”
“Consider it this way: $1.2 trillion sounds like a big number—and it is a big number—but, we are dealing with a 10-year window in which time the federal government is expected to spend something on the order of $45 trillion, so this is approximately three percent of what the government is going to spend,” he said.
“It certainly should be do-able, and if you consider the huge run-up in spending that has occurred recently, it makes it all the more do-able from a common sense, and a basic fiscal and mathematical point of view,” he said.
“The question as always is whether we will find the political will to do it,” he said.”
Toomey said he was surprised that just as the committee was beginning its work, the president announced a $500 billion in new spending to pay for his jobs bill.
“The sheer magnitude of the spending is the wrong approach,” he said. “You know, all kinds of stimulus spending is a big part of what got us into this mess,” he said. “Stimulus spending did not stimulate growth, did not generate the jobs it promised, so another round of stimulus spending is not going to have any better outcome.”
Although, there are policy ideas that the president talked about which deserve consideration, Toomey said.
The senator, who worked on Wall Street and as a small-businessman in Allentown, Pa., before becoming active in that city’s local politics in 1994, said during the late summer break he traveled throughout the Keystone State listening to how his constituents viewing the committee’s task.
“People across Pennsylvania understand that we are on a completely unsustainable fiscal path—it is really, really dangerous,” he said. “It is no longer about the debt we are placing on our grandchildren, as unconscionable as that is, we are racking up debt that could lead to a fiscal crisis of our own making if we continue down this path—and a lot of people in Pennsylvania understand that.”
Many of the people Toomey spoke to back home were frustrated that the politicians in Washington have not already fixed the spending problem and turned around the trends in federal spending, he said.
“There was a lot of discussion about this select committee and a lot of encouragement,” he said. People do want us to be successful,” he said.
“I absolutely believe it is do-able and possible, but whether we can actually achieve it, is yet to be determined, he said.