Congress' next challenge: Forming the debt "super committee"

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Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., says he wouldn't serve on the debt "super committee" if asked.
CBS

Updated at 4:10 p.m ET

Now that Congress has passed a bill to raise the debt limit and address the deficit, leaders have two weeks to choose delegates to a new "super committee" that will recommend further deficit and debt reduction ideas.

At least one lawmaker has taken himself out of the running for the 12-member committee, while other congressmen mull over who'd be a good fit for the "super" group.

Congressional leaders will choose three House Democrats, three Senate Democrats, three House Republicans and three Senate Republicans. They'll have to consider which members could survive the political liability that comes with making hard decisions ahead of the 2012 elections. They'll also have to decide whether to choose members that are typically loyal to party ideology or are more interested in compromise.

Once the group is selected, they have until Thanksgiving to draft a plan to create $1.2 trillion in savings. Seven of the 12 members would have to approve the plan to send it to Congress. The full Congress can then either approve the plan or allow across-the-board cuts to security and entitlement programs to kick in.

CBSNews.com special report: America's debt battle

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., one of the senators who voted against the debt limit package Tuesday, said this morning he wouldn't serve on the super committee if asked, the Hill reports.

"They're not going to [ask], and if I voted for it and they asked me to, I still wouldn't serve on it," Nelson said on the Nebraska radio show KLIN News Talk.

The senator predicted the committee will get hung up in partisan gridlock and suggested that creating such a committee was the wrong approach to policy making.

"I don't think we can take politics out of every difficult decision," he said. "I don't like to cede away or give away my responsibility, and certainly I don't like to authorize a group of my colleagues to do what I was sent to Washington to do."

Two other senators, Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, expressed their skepticism about the new super committee on Tuesday to CBS Evening News anchor and managing editor Scott Pelley.

"I think it's going to be very difficult for this select committee to come up with any resolution, any meaningful resolution," Chambliss said. Added Warner, "I'm not sure the committee is going to get the job done." (embed the video of the interview)

Both Chambliss and Warner were part of a group of six bipartisan senators who earlier this year put forward their own ideas for deficit reduction.

So far, congressional leaders have indicated there may be at least some partisan politics at play when it comes to picking the super committee. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that the House Democratic representation in the super committee will protect entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

"I know that whoever's at that table will be someone who will fight to protect those benefits," she said.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, reassured conservatives on Tuesday that there'd be no litmus test for appointees to the committee. McConnell clarified that after the conservative magazine the Weekly Standard reported that McConnell would not appoint members who voted against the debt deal on Tuesday.

"There is no vote position requirement to serve on the committee," a McConnell spokesman responded, adding that the Republican leader "will have serious discussions with all those who are interested in serving prior to making any appointments."

For what it's worth, politicians and pundits without any say in the final decision are suggesting candidates for the super committee. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said on Fox News Tuesday that Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio would be a good candidate. Additionally, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus says that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who is recovering from being shot in the head, would make a good honorary chair of the group, to remind lawmakers the importance of transcending partisan bickering.

In spite of the skepticism of some members, both McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have expressed optimism that the super committee will succeed.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner also expressed optimism in a Washington Post op-ed published Wednesday morning.

The threat of across-the-board cuts should Congress fail to pass the committee's plan "creates a strong incentive to compromise," Geithner wrote. He added, "Beneath all the bluster, the prospects for compromise on broader and deeper reforms are better than they have been in years."

Regardless of who sits on the committee, they are sure to feel intense pressure from lobbyists, Politico reports. Several lobbyists told Politico they expect to see a full-court press of Congress as it weighs spending cuts and revenue increases.

Update: In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Wednesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said there's been quite a bit of interest in the committee. "The speaker is the one who makes the selection, and I have gotten a lot of calls and emails from members who want to serve and want to participate in solving the problem," he said.

More on the debt debate from MoneyWatch:

History Offers Hope to Bulls Now That Debt Ceiling Mess Is Over
What the Debt Deal Means for Jobs and the Economy

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