The debt ceiling deal will pass the Senate early this afternoon. No suspense there. But the vote will be worth watching for another reason: Three Republican Senate sources tell TWS that senators who vote against the deal will be ineligible to serve on the so-called “supercommittee” for deficit reduction that the legislation creates.
While there’s certain logic to such a policy, it could be self-defeating. Excluding those who vote against the debt deal will ensure that some of the most fiscally conservative members of the Senate Republican caucus, including most of its freshmen, will be reading about the committee’s activities in the newspaper rather than guiding its decisions. Among those who have already declared their opposition to the deal: libertarian-leaning senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul; Jim DeMint, the aggressive fiscal hawk from South Carolina; conservative reformers Ron Johnson from Wisconsin and Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania; the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, Jeff Sessions; and Florida’s Marco Rubio, already one of the highest-profile conservatives in Congress.
More worrisome for conservatives, however, is that private whip counts in the Senate found that some 20 Republicans expressed support for the proposals that came out of the Gang of Six. And while many of the components of that plan have merit as individual policy proposals, the package involves compromises on taxes anathema to most conservatives. Picking a Gang of Six member – or supporter – would further antagonize conservatives skeptical of the debt ceiling deal.
There’s the problem. If, say, a dozen of the strongest fiscal conservatives vote against the deal, the pool of Republicans that can be expected to hold the line on taxes shrinks very quickly. And if a key Republican objective for the committee is to block tax increases, the exclusion of these strong fiscal conservatives makes meeting that goal more difficult.
Mitch McConnell, who will make the selections, isn’t worried. He told Fox News Channel’s Neil Cavuto yesterday that the likelihood of tax hikes coming out of the committee is “pretty low.”
“What I can pretty certainly say to the American people, the chances of any kind of tax increase passing with this, with the appointees of John Boehner and I, are going to put in there are pretty low,” said McConnell. He added: “I’m comfortable we aren’t going to raise taxes coming out of this joint committee.”
UPDATE: McConnell spokesman Don Stewart says all senators will be considered. "No one is stronger in his opposition to tax hikes than Sen. McConnell. He will have serious discussions with all those who are interested in serving prior to making any appointments."