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Will Congress's "super committee" get results?

super committee, deficit, debt
Top row: Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), [empty space], Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.); Second row: Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash), Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz), Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass), Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.); Third row: Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), [empty space], Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn), [empty space]

As congressional leadership rounds up the 12 lawmakers who will make up the so-called "super committee," scrutiny is now turning to how effective that committee can actually be in reducing America's debt - particularly in light of the bitter partisanship that defined negotiations the first time around. 

Following last month's contentious debate over raising the debt ceiling, both sides of the aisle are gearing up for what is expected to be an equally difficult second round of negotiations - when, this fall, the bipartisan committee (which was attached to the deal to raise the debt limit last week) must work together to find at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings.

No one expects compromise to come easily. special report: America's debt battle

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., tapped Sens. Patty Murray, Max Baucus and John Kerry to represent Senate Democrats on the committee. Today, House Speaker John Boehner appointed Reps. Jeb Hensarling, Dave Camp and Fred Upton. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, selected Sens. Jon Kyl, Pat Toomey, and Rob Portman. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has yet to name her picks.

Voices on both the left and the right, however, have already expressed skepticism about the group's ability to get things done.

Both liberal groups and conservatives have targeted the selection of Murray, who also serves as the chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, as a purely political pick given her fundraising role within the Democratic party.

"The Select Committee is no place for someone whose top priority is fundraising and politics," argued RNC chair Reince Priebus following Murray's appointment.


"He kinda has a point -- up to a point," wrote the Washington Post's Jonathan Capeheart in an opinion piece on Wednesday. As the chair of the DSCC, he writes, Murray's job "is to find candidates and raise money to maintain or increase the Democratic majority in the Senate by defeating the Republicans with whom she serves."

"So, by day, Murray will help hammer out a deal for the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts that must be agreed to by the end of the year," he continues. "And then by night she'll don her partisan armor to slay her the GOP? No wonder Priebus is waxing cranky."

But, he adds, "Priebus's point only goes so far." As a ranking member of the Budget Committee and a four-term senator, "It makes sense for her to be there."

Yet more difficult to imagine is the possibility that, as Democrats hope, the committee will be able to come up with a deficit reduction deal that includes tax increases - or that, per Republican demands, entitlement programs will be subjected to serious reforms.

All six Republicans appointed to the committee have signed a pledge vowing not to raise taxes. And Pelosi, who will be selecting the House Democrats, has repeatedly said that, per her appointments, entitlement benefits will be off the table in the negotiations.

"Already, Eric Cantor has reaffirmed his no-new-revenue pledge, while Nancy Pelosi has promised that entitlement reform will be avoided by her yet-to-be-announced appointees," writes the Daily Beast's John Avlon. "The net result is a Joint Committee that seems likely to be stuffed with the ideologically stubborn, receptive to special interest arguments, and therefore unlikely to achieve bipartisan agreement."

He continues: "It is a recipe for failure at the very time we need just such a Joint Committee to succeed."

The Washington Post's Stephen Stromberg, also an opinion writer, argues that while the Democratic picks were "less than inspiring," the GOP committee appointments were altogether "unlikely to seek authentic compromise."

The Republican leaders, he contends, "sprinkled the super-committee with ideologues who are unlikely to seek authentic compromise with Democrats."

Stromberg points particularly to the selection of Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who voted against the recent debt limit deal and has argued in the past that allowing the nation to default would be less than economically devastating. Moreover, he used to lead the ardently anti-tax "Club for Growth."

"This selection isn't as bad as it could have been," Stromberg writes, but "between the Democratic and Republican picks, the sins of omission are glaring."

Meanwhile, Salon's Steve Kornacki points out that Democratic optimism over the possibility that Republican selection Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., could defect from his party in favor of a "balanced" approach, is likely misplaced.

"Upton's story actually illustrates perfectly why hard-line conservatives have nothing to fear -- and why meaningful compromise with congressional Republicans is essentially impossible in the current climate," he writes.

In fact, Kornacki argues that Upton's past willingness to break ranks with Republicans makes him an even more "brilliant" pick.

"The Fred Upton that John Boehner just appointed to the deficit reduction super committee probably isn't the 'individual thinker' who defined himself as a middle-of-the-road pragmatist for his first two decades in Congress," he says. "More likely, it's the Fred Upton who watched as that reputation nearly cost him his House seat and a powerful committee gavel last year -- and who doesn't want to go through anything like that again."

Kornacki continues: "In a way, picking Upton was a brilliant move by Boehner. It looks like he appointed an independent voice, but there's little chance Upton will act like one."

Despite all indications that, come Thanksgiving, Congress will be engaged in yet another partisan ideological struggle over tax increases and entitlement reform, some hold out hope that President Obama's "grand bargain" - which failed to gain sufficient traction in Congress in the first round of negotiations - could still make a comeback.

Thomas Friedman, in a New York Times op-ed, imagines a world where such a bargain is possible.

"This is a scary economic moment," Friedman writes. "The response we need is not easy, but it is totally obvious. We need a Grand Bargain between America's two parties -- and we need it right now."

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