August 14th, 2011

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Bloomberg: Debt-Panel Outcome Clouded by Pressure From Lawmakers’ Backers

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

House and Senate leaders named lawmakers who probably won’t face a stiff re-election fight soon. The six House members were all re-elected with at least 62 percent of the vote, and none of the six senators are facing voters in 2012.

Bloomberg

The 12-member congressional panel charged with finding $1.5 trillion in budget savings may be unable to overcome resistance from the lobbyists, donors and interest groups that sustain them in office.

The committee, already split by internal divisions over taxes and entitlements, will examine defense and health care for possible cuts, and both industries have influence with its members. Health professionals are the biggest donors to three of the House members. Three senators have dozens of military installations to protect, and employees of defense contractor Boeing Co. (BA) are top donors to the panel’s co-chairwoman, Patty Murray.

Retirees are among the largest givers to almost all the lawmakers, and members considering scaling back Social Security or the Medicare insurance program for the elderly will confront a barrage of lobbying by the seniors’ group AARP.

“Nobody wants to promise their cohorts any kind of pain and suffering or divergence from the current theology,” said Bill Frenzel, a former congressman who served as the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee. Republican distaste for tax increases and Democrats’ insistence on protecting entitlement programs is a “doomsday formula,” he said.

The panel, whose work has taken on greater urgency since Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating, is already facing doubts about whether it can meet a Nov. 23 deadline for a plan and head off a round of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts. It includes six Democrats who back tax increases and six Republicans who signed a pledge to oppose that. Few have engaged in bipartisan efforts on major issues; 11 of the 12 have voted with their party at least 90 percent of the time.

Pelosi Names Allies

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi yesterday completed the panel’s membership by appointing three of her closest allies: fellow House leaders Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, James Clyburn of South Carolina and Xavier Becerra of California. A day earlier, House Speaker John Boehner tapped Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas, and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, both of Michigan.

The Democratic senators serving on the panel are Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Murray of Washington, who runs her party’s fundraising efforts for senators. Their Republican counterparts are Senators Jon Kyl of Arizona, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rob Portman of Ohio, who served as President George W. Bush’s budget director. Hensarling will join Murray as co-leader of the panel.