Supercommittee's Picks Fuel Doubts Over Its Success The supercommittee is tasked with finding a longer-term plan for the federal government's spending. But the politics of the panel's co-chairs may be a roadblock to negotiations.
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Supercommittee's Picks Fuel Doubts Over Its Success

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Supercommittee's Picks Fuel Doubts Over Its Success

Supercommittee's Picks Fuel Doubts Over Its Success

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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MICHELE NORRIS, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: And I'm Melissa Block. Wall Street and even the world are looking to Washington to bring stability back to the economy. Today, congressional leaders announced their appointments to the so-called supercommittee. That's the panel tasked with finding deeper deficit reductions and a longer-term spending plan. NPR's Andrea Seabrook has more on the committee and on the chances of another round of bare-knuckled fights in Washington and beyond.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Since the idea of the supercommittee first came up, there's been great hope for it and great skepticism. House Republican freshman Andy Harris voted against the debt ceiling deal that set up the committee, but now, he says there's a silver lining to the downgrade of the government's credit rating: It will force Washington to face reality.

Representative ANDY HARRIS: Two weeks ago, I would have been much more skeptical about the concept of the supercommittee. I'm less skeptical now because I think that they'll realize that we have to get this done right this time.

SEABROOK: Here are the names of the bipartisan co-chairs of the supercommittee: Washington Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat, and Texas Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling. The two of them were deeply engaged in the debt ceiling fight that consumed the early part of the summer. Their statements in late July give us clues to the future of the supercommittee. The Democrat, Senator Murray, took to the floor in frustration during the negotiations.

Senator PATTY MURRAY: We have offered up compromise after compromise. We have come to the middle and beyond. We have offered up serious and deep cuts in federal spending. But again and again, the House Republicans have said no.

SEABROOK: And throughout the debate, Hensarling, the Republican from Texas, railed on Senate Democrats.

Representative JEB HENSARLING: They've yet to pass a plan to deal with the debt crisis. Only House Republicans have passed a plan to deal with the debt ceiling.

SEABROOK: The political positioning of these two co-chairs may not bode well for a future compromise. The problem is, well, the same problem the two parties have had all along: Democrats are dead set on protecting Medicare and Medicaid and making sure that this time, revenues from big business and the wealthy will be raised. Here's House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Representative NANCY PELOSI: We have to go in there recognizing that some cuts will have to be made, whether it's subsidies for big oil, whether it's tax benefits through corporations sending jobs overseas. You cannot reduce the deficit unless you bring revenue in.

SEABROOK: And Republicans, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, are just as dead set on cutting entitlement programs and even lowering taxes.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL: The trustees of Medicare and Social Security say both programs are in trouble, Medicare sooner than Social Security. We haven't yet been able to do anything on the tax reform side.

SEABROOK: Now, there are 10 other lawmakers on the supercommittee, Republican senators Jon Kyl of Arizona, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rob Portman of Ohio - Portman and Toomey are freshmen - and House Republicans Fred Upton and Dave Camp, both committee chairmen from Michigan. As for Democrats, Pelosi hasn't named the three House members yet, but joining Murray from the Senate will be Democrats Max Baucus of Montana and John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Now, some of those members aren't as entrenched in their positions as the two co-chairs. Kerry signaled on NBC this week that he's ready to get down to work with Republicans.

Senator JOHN KERRY: What we need is a Washington that stops this bickering, that gets rid of these hard positions.

SEABROOK: But outside of the committee, some think the high hopes for the panel are misplaced.

Representative PAUL RYAN: I don't think this is going to be a committee that's going to fix all of our fiscal problems.

SEABROOK: House Republican budget guru Paul Ryan told Fox that the most he hopes for out of the committee is another modest cut in government spending. Ryan's real focus...

RYAN: Ultimately, I really think you need to change the leadership in Washington.

SEABROOK: Change the leadership, said Ryan. That's code for what both sides are ultimately working toward: the coming elections in November of 2012. The question is can the country wait that long for a solution? Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, Washington.

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