The debt limit fight is over, but the fight over entitlement programs will continue for months. In the weeks ahead, the leaders of both parties in both the House and Senate will name three members each to a new committee tasked with reducing the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion.
The ultimate makeup of that committee is key. It will determine whether this Congress will pass further fiscal legislation, and, thus, what the major themes of the 2012 election will be.
At a pre-recess press conference Tuesday afternoon, TPM asked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) whether the people she appoints to the committee will make the same stand she made during the debt limit fight — that entitlement benefits — as opposed to provider payments, waste and other Medicare spending — should be off limits.
In short, yes.
“That is a priority for us,” Pelosi said. “But let me say it is more than a priority - it is a value… it’s an ethic for the American people. It is one that all of the members of our caucus share. So that I know that whoever’s at that table will be someone who will fight to protect those benefits.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will also appoint three members to the committee. And if even a single one of them is willing to cut into Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits, then Pelosi’s efforts won’t really matter — the committee’s report can be approved by a bare majority of its 12 members.
But if Reid and Pelosi play this smart, they could create a sturdy firewall. And that’s especially true if Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appoint people to the committee who pledge not to allow net revenue increases.
So far Republican leaders have not responded to inquiries about whether that will be a requirement.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.