With Congress in recess until early September, Washington is gearing up for a busy autumn. All 12 members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (or the super committee) were named this week, and the battle over federal spending will pick-up right where it left off when Congress reconvenes. The committee will be co-chaired by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and rounded out with Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-PA), Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA), Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). The super committee must reach an agreement on how to cut $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years by Thanksgiving or automatic, across-the-board cuts are enacted.
The six Republicans chosen have all been remarkably loyal to the party over the course of their careers (Tea Partiers like Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia were unsurprisingly left off the invite list), and the exact same can be said of their Democratic counterparts. The go-to energy member for the Republicans will be Rep. Upton who Chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, and for the Democrats it will likely be Sen. Kerry and Sen. Baucus. The six Republicans boast a history of attacking energy subsidies wherever possible and all voted against EPA climate change regulations. The Democrats will likely follow the lead of the two more experienced Senators on energy issues that arise, and will push hard for the elimination of oil-friendly sections of the tax code. With almost all the members on both sides being so beholden to their leadership, a deadlock seems just as likely as any genuine compromise, but the threat of the automatic cuts may spur action.
On the energy and environment issues, the debate will boil down to tax breaks and subsidies; Democrats seeking to strip the petrochemical industry of its long standing support and the Republicans trying to do away with support for renewable energy subsidies and R&D spending. That said, it is difficult to say how much play energy will get, given the enormity of the super committee’s mandate. The energy issues are daunting enough, but the members also face tough choices on Medicare, social security, defense and a host of other issues.
While the super committee’s work unfolds, the Democrats will be pushing a jobs agenda with a large energy component. The initiative will be largely centered on the Democratic-controlled Senate where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said – while eschewing specifics – that jobs related to clean energy will be one of the party’s “signature issues.” In the few concrete statements on what legislation might move, Sen. Reid has mentioned green buildings, energy efficiency, something related to electric vehicles, and some of the legislation reported out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee this summer. The White House has also come out in support of pushing bipartisan energy legislation with Deputy Asst. to the President for Energy and Climate Change Heather Zichal telling the media that she would be working closely with the Senate after recess. However, if any of the legislation is to survive the House, it will need to cost little to nothing, and have some kind of Republican support.