The 12-members of Congress charged with coming up with a way to carve $1.2 trillion from the deficit have been meeting for weeks – but just what they’ve been up to is a mystery. They’re not talking much about what happens in their closed-door sessions.
Alaska’s Congressional members are split in their opinions of the process, one that could have huge repercussions for all Americans.
The deficit cutting panel has until Thanksgiving to craft a plan Congress will vote on, and if they fail, major cuts get triggered.
Alaska’s delegation is outside looking in on the so-called “Super Committee.” That’s not bothering Democratic Senator Mark Begich, who says members will speak loudest when it comes time to vote on the committee’s proposals.
“I don’t feel out of the loop at all. It’s like asking me about the rewrite of No Child Left Behind, I’m not on the committee, but I’m not out of the loop. You know, that’s how the process works here. You have committees but you’re never out of the loop if you want to be engaged. Now some members are just going to wait for the end product and make a decision then. We’re looking at everything we think is important and then making comments. That’s how we’re doing it,” Begich said.
Begich says he’s weighed in with ideas through letters and by banding together with other members to give added heft to their perspective. And instead of being frustrated by the tight-lipped Super Committee, he likes that its every action is not being reported in the press and used as political fodder by battling factions.
Alaska’s senior Republican Senator, Lisa Murkowski, finds the waiting more difficult. She says it’s hard for the 94 elected Senators who don’t have a say in the discussions and are in the dark, and she senses that same feeling among Americans wondering what the committee is doing.
“It is a mystery. And I think this is somewhat frustrating for those observing from the outside. But those observing from the outside, just imagine how frustrating it is for those of us elected to represent our constituents and we’ve got very limited opportunities for input into a process, that is really very exclusive at this point,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski says it would be fairer for all the members of Congress to have a say, but she’s still supporting the Super Committee’s efforts because she warns that if they don’t come up with a viable plan to save over a trillion dollars, the triggered cuts could be very painful – and left up to the White House rather than Congress.
Top members on House and Senate committees have been able to give the Deficit Reduction Group their priorities, so as the ranking Republican on Energy, Murkowski’s registered her input.
While Murkowski is pressuring the committee to bring a good plan before Congress, Representative Don Young has all but given up. The Republican House member says no one is willing to tackle changing the entitlement programs like Medicare that are big spenders.
“What makes you think those 12 are any smarter than the rest of the congress? I really don’t believe that. Some are good friends, I’ve let them know issues like primary care, I want to make sure it’s still funded, I think that’s crucially important for the health of our country,” Young said.
Young says he’s picked some top issues to advocate for, but just how the Super Committee weighs other members’ input won’t likely be revealed for weeks.
And one thing the Alaska delegation totally agrees on – the seriousness of the task ahead… and the difficult consequences if the Super Committee can’t come up with something Congress can stomach.