On August 11, 2011, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) finalized the composition of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction by naming Democratic Representatives Xavier Becerra (CA), Chris Van Hollen (MD), and Jim Clyburn (SC) to the so-called Congressional “super committee” eight days after the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) was signed into law by President Barack Obama establishing the committee.  On August 10, 2011, House Speaker John Boehner tapped Republicans Dave Camp (MI), Fred Upton (MI), and Jeb Hensarling (TX) for membership on the committee.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid picked Democrats Patty Murray (WA), Max Baucus (MT), and John Kerry (MA), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Republican choices were Jon Kyl (AZ), Pat Toomey (PA), and Rob Portman (OH).

The Congress passed the BCA in order to increase the nation’s debt ceiling limit while also creating mechanisms to reduce the deficit by establishing spending targets over the next ten years, between fiscal years 2012 and 2021.  The BCA specified $917 billion of spending cuts over this ten year period and established the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction to identify an additional $1.5 trillion worth of cuts.  The committee is tasked with identifying these spending cuts by November 23, 2011 through additional legislation to be passed by December 23, 2011.

If the committee cannot agree upon additional spending cuts of at least $1.2 trillion through entitlement reform or by raising tax revenue, the BCA includes a “sequestration” procedure that automatically cuts certain mandatory and discretionary spending equal to the difference between $1.2 trillion and the amount of reduction agreed upon by the committee.  Exemptions in the law protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid beneficiaries from cuts to those programs, but the sequestration procedure could include up to a two percent uniform reduction in payments to providers for services under Medicare Parts A, B, and C.