WASHINGTON — A conservative Texas Republican congressman has been chosen by House Speaker John Boehner to co-chair a powerful new committee tasked to find a bipartisan plan to slash the federal budget deficit by over $1 trillion.
Boehner, R-Ohio, announced Rep. Jeb Hensarling's selection on Wednesday. At the same time, he named Reps. Dave Camp and Fred Upton, both of Michigan, to the committee. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., named Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rob Portman of Ohio to the panel.
Toomey, a former House member who was elected to the Senate last year with Tea Party backing, is the only member named so far who voted against the legislation that created the committee. At the time, Toomey said he was "concerned that the long-term cuts over the next decade will not materialize."
"All Congress has to do to override this bill's spending restraints in the future is pass another law that overrides them," Toomey said. "If Congress is truly serious about cutting spending, it would mandate serious spending cuts in next year's budget — the only year in which cuts are actually guaranteed."
Hensarling will provide a conservative counterweight to the Democratic co-chair, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, in what is shaping up as another debate in which Democrats will fight to protect entitlement programs while Republicans will adamantly oppose tax increases.
Hensarling, a five-term congressman from the Dallas area, is chairman of the House Republican Conference. He gets high marks from conservative groups for opposing taxes and abortion, while supporting gun rights. Murray is chairwoman of the committee to elect Democratic senators and a longtime protector of Democratic priorities such as Medicare, Social Security and veterans' benefits.
"Times are tough, and American families have had to make many sacrifices over the last few years," Hensarling said in a statement. "While they didn't cause this debt crisis, they've learned how to make do by tightening their belts and living within their means. It's time Washington did the same."
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid named Murray, as well as Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Max Baucus, D-Mont., to the panel. Nine of the panel's 12 positions are now filled. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi will name the other three.
The committee is charged with coming up with at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings over the coming decade. It has until the day before Thanksgiving to come up with a plan that gets at least seven votes.
If it fails, or if the House or Senate votes down its recommendations, severe across-the-board spending cuts would be triggered automatically, hitting large swaths of the federal budget starting in 2013, including priorities dear to both parties. These include Medicaid, farm subsidies and the defense budget.
Camp is chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, which also oversees Social Security and Medicare. Upton is chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.
On Wednesday, Camp made it clear he will continue to fight against "job-killing tax increases as a way to reduce our debt and deficits."
"If we are successful in curbing the overspending in Washington that has sparked fear in the financial markets and created uncertainty on Main Street, we will start to see the job creation we desperately need," Camp said.
In the Senate, Kyl is the No. 2 ranking Republican and Portman, a freshman, was a budget director under former President George W. Bush.
"Chronic joblessness, out-of-control deficits and debt, and an unprecedented credit downgrade represent an historic challenge but also an historic opportunity for lawmakers in Washington to show they can work together on a plan that puts America back on the path to prosperity," McConnell said. "The American people know that we cannot dig ourselves out of this situation by nibbling around the edges, and I am confident that each of these (Senate GOP) nominees can be counted on to propose solutions that put the interests of all Americans ahead of any one political party."