As the deficit super committee kicked off its long-awaited first meeting Thursday morning, Republicans and Democrats on the panel were in perfect agreement on one thing: failure is not an option.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the co-chairs of the joint House and Senate panel, in opening statements laid out the goal of achieving $1.2 trillion in additional deficit reduction over 10 years, as well as the stakes, in dire terms.
“The needle on the gauge has now entered the red zone,” Hensarling said. “…It’s clear that our debt hangs like a sword of Damocles over business decisions.”
“Families across America are looking to this committee to work across the aisle to get this done,” Murray said.
For the most part, lawmakers set aside entrenched partisan divisions and lauded the committee’s bipartisan, behind-the-scenes, organizational work over the past month, but ideological differences were still apparent.
Although Murray said she agreed that the “deep and long-term deficit and long-term debt” is placing an “overwhelming burden” on the nation and future generations, she and other Democrats spent more time talking about the desperate need for job creation, while Republicans led by Hensarling argued that reducing the deficit is a jobs-plan in and of itself.
“Deficit reduction and a path to sustainability is itself a jobs program,” Hensarling asserted.
During the third opening statement by Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), a protest in the hallway outside the hearing room briefly disrupted the meeting with protesters repeatedly shouting “jobs now!” Hensarling instructed staffers to close the doors and told lawmakers on the panel simply to speak louder.
The brief first meeting, which lasted just over an hour, successfully resumed to allow the panel’s members to finish their opening statements and pass their internal governing rules, which had been pre-negotiated by Hensarling and Murray in the preceding weeks.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) was the only member to ask a question before the rules were passed unanimously. Van Hollen wanted to know when the panel’s hearing schedule would be confirmed and available for public consumption. Murray assured him that she and Hensarling were working to come up with a hearing schedule as soon as possible and would comply with the internal rule requiring public notice of a hearing seven days ahead of time. The super committee plans a hearing next week to discuss the precursors of the current financial crisis.