WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will appoint Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) to the congressional debt-reduction "super committee" tasked with finding roughly $1.5 trillion in savings over the next decade. Murray will serve as one of the committee's two co-chairs, alongside a House Republican.
In making his picks, the Nevada Democrat becomes the first congressional leader to offer his three appointments to the super committee, who will be granted strong procedural powers to see their recommendations come to a vote. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) still must choose three members each, in advance of an Aug. 16 deadline.
Reid's picks suggest that he favored committee chairs and senior members of the party over some of the younger, more progressive-minded senators. Murray chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and will undoubtedly keep electoral implications in mind as she weighs various policy suggestions. Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is a top foreign policy voice in the party and will likely play a central role in carving out the cuts made to defense appropriations. Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, is a leading figure on tax policy, another legislative component that falls within the committee's purview. None of the three were part of the so-called Gang of Six -– the informal bipartisan group of senators who worked to craft a debt reduction plan of their own.
The choices are not particularly trusted in liberal circles either, in part because of concerns that moneyed interests may come in to play when it comes time to negotiate. In FY 2009, for instance, companies in Murray's home state of Washington received $5.2 billion in defense contracts. Boeing Inc. is the fourth biggest contributor to Murray over the course of her career, according to data gathered by the Center for Responsive Politics.
More broadly, good government advocates were concerned that her post atop the DSCC, which comes with significant fundraising responsibilities, would influence her approach to the committee.
“Sen. Patty Murray may be a fine Senator, but putting Senate Democrats’ leading fundraiser in charge of a committee that will see a lobbying push like never before sends the wrong message to the American people,” said Nick Nyhart, president of Public Campaign, in a press release. “Instead of focusing solely on finding a balanced approach to deficit reduction, she will also be focused on raising money from the same interests hoping to influence the committee.”
Baucus, who was a major player in blocking President George W. Bush's efforts to privatize Social Security and was instrumental in crafting the Affordable Care Act, enjoys close ties to the financial sector. According to CRP data, he has received $5.2 million in campaign contributions from the finance, insurance and real estate industries since 2005.
In Kerry's home state of Massachusetts, meanwhile, the defense industry has tripled in size since 2000.
Should the committee not come to an agreement (and it would take only seven of its 12 members to reach one) or if its suggestions are not passed by Congress, then a trigger would be hit, resulting in major spending cuts and reductions in the defense budget.
On Monday, multiple Senate Democratic sources told The Huffington Post that Reid was leaning against including Baucus in his final three. Senate Democratic sources, when asked about the change of heart, said that while it didn't initially appear that Baucus would end up being picked, he was always considered an option. The two enjoy a close relationship in the Senate and even if Baucus hadn't ended up on the committee, he would have likely been expected to contribute –- either through suggestions or staff -– to its work on tax reform.
A Democratic source told The Huffington Post that Kerry "made it into the discussion" of who should serve on the committee by delivering "some powerful speeches" to the rest of the caucus. The speeches, the source added, were in defense of Democratic Party priorities, focusing on the need to protect entitlement programs and Kerry's desire to strongly push back against (what the source referred to as) "the right-wing agenda."