As Congress reconvenes after a tumultuous summer, and on the heels of the President’s impassioned Jobs speech, all attention is shifted to the Joint Committee on Deficit Reductions, also known as the Congressional Super Committee. With the debt ceiling being raised, barely escaping default but not avoiding a Standard & Poor’s credit downgrade, it is time for the political debate to pick up right where it left off.
As part of the debt ceiling agreement that was signed into law in August, a Super Committee of twelve members of Congress has been assembled to devise a long term plan for the country’s financial health by November 23rd. The make-up of the committee is as follows, representing the Democrats are Sen. Patty Murray (WA), Sen. John Kerry (MA), Sen. Max Baucus (MO), Rep. James Clyburn (SC), Rep. Xavier Becerra (CA), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD). On the Republican side there is Sen. John Kyl (AZ), Sen. Rob Portman (OH), Sen. Pat Toomey (PA), Rep. Dave Camp (MI), Rep. Fred Upton (MI) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (TX). The Committee is co-chaired by Sen. Murray and Rep. Hensarling.
The Committee is charged with producing at least $1.2 trillion in spending cuts. If seven out of the twelve members approve a plan, it is put on the fast track to an up-or-down vote: no committee hearings, no filibusters, no amendments, straight to the floor of the House and then on to the Senate.
If they cannot reach an agreement by the November deadline, or Congress cannot pass a bill by December 23rd, automatic cuts will be triggered equaling the $1.2 trillion. These automatic cuts will impact all spending programs, especially those that fund human services programs that serve vulnerable populations; a population made much larger by the economic climate. Under the automatic cuts, Medicare is one of the few programs that will see limited cuts, and unlike other program cuts, those cuts will primarily hurt providers, rather than beneficiaries. All automatic cuts will begin to take effect in 2013.
Many concerns have been raised about the physical make-up of the Committee. There have been calls that the Committee lacks diversity with only one African American, one Hispanic, and one woman represented. Many believe this does not bode well for minority and low income communities as these constituencies, who have been affected the most during the economic downturn, will be left behind when decisions are made. The statistics show that the wealth gap in this country is growing larger and larger each day and without a strong voice on the Super Committee, many communities of color and lower economic standing will see that gap grow even more as cuts to human service programs are put into place.
Today, the Super Committee began to hear public testimony on the history of the current debt crisis. From this testimony the Committee will begin to devise spending cut plans. The Committee will have the authority to propose cuts to all federal programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Food Stamps. Democrats are expected to take a jobs angle with their proposals. Sen. Kerry has been the main proponent of the creation of an Infrastructure Bank, to help put the unemployed back to work. Couple that with the President’s speech last week about putting America back to work and democratic Committee members will be looking at ways to grow the economy and create jobs. Republicans will take the hard line of cutting, but the question is — can the six Democratic members sway just one Republican member to side with them?
It is more crucial than ever to reach out to Washington and encourage continued support for critical human service programs. Please continue to call upon your members of Congress and urge them to support vital programs. You can also reach out directly to the members of the Super Committee and call on them to preserve funding for much needed human service programs. You can find contact information for your members here.
Contributed by Shana Mosher of the Human Services Council