The heads of each party in the two chambers of Congress announced their picks this week to staff the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which some are now calling the “Gang of 12.” The debt deal struck last week automatically implements nearly $1 trillion in cuts to be implemented over the next nine years by placing caps on discretionary spending, which cannot include entitlement programs. The gang is tasked with proposing at least $1.2 trillion in additional budget savings, which can include cuts to entitlement programs and increases in revenue, by November for the full chambers to vote on.
On the Senate side, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appointed Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Pat Toomey (R-PA), and Rob Portman (R-OH). Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) named Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), as committee co-chair, and appointed Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT) and John Kerry (D-MA) as members.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) selected House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) to serve as committee co-chair, and Michiganders Reps. Dave Camp and Fred Upton as members as well. Across the aisle, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) appointed Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), assistant democratic leader since 2011, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA).
There are some champions for global health in the mix to include Sen. Murray, whose state houses the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters. Sen. Kerry, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, received a special award from the PEPFAR program in 2008 for his continued work fighting AIDS globally.
On the other hand, in 2003 Sen. Toomey, known as a social and fiscal conservative, co-sponsored an amendment to the House Labor/HHS appropriations bill that aimed to restrict federal funding to the National Institutes of Health for five grants dealing with sexual health research. Also of interest, in 1995 Sen. Kyl was one of the very few senators to vote against reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act, which provides assistance domestically to those living with HIV and their families. In 2008 he also introduced an amendment to the PEPFAR reauthorization bill that reduced overall PEPFAR funding authorization by $2 billion.
The committee’s recommendations are due by November 23 and both chambers must consider the legislation in an up or down vote – meaning no changes or amendments – in one month’s time. If the Senate and House fail to pass the measure, automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that fall equally on defense and non-defense spending will begin in January 2013. Entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are exempted.