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Q&A: A handy guide to the congressional "supercommittee"

August 29, 2011 by Donald Applestein Esq.


When Congress returns from its summer recess after Labor Day, all eyes will be on the so-called "supercommittee," charged with developing a deficit-reduction plan. As the committee members sharpen their pencils, here's a guide to help you follow along.

What is the congressional "supercommittee"?

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The "supercommittee" -- formally the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction -- is a bipartisan, 12-member committee of Congress created by President Obama and congressional leaders in late July as part of the deal to allow the government to raise the federal debt limit.

What is the committee's make-up and who is on it?

There are six Representatives, three from each party, and six Senators, also with three from each party.  The members are:

House                                                                               Senate

Fred Upton -  R Mich                                                     Max Baucus – D MT

Dave Camp - R Mich                                                     John Kerry – D MA

Jeb Hensarling – R  TX                                                   Patty Murray – D Wash.

Jim Clyburn – D SC                                                         Rob Portman –R OH

Xavier Becerra –D CA                                                    Pat Toomey – R PA

Chris Van Hollen – D MD                                               John Kyl – R  VT

How will the committee make decisions?

With a majority of 7.  In other words, for the Committee to approve a recommendation one member of a party has to vote with members of the other party.

What is the goal of the committee?

The Committee is responsible for finding deficit reductions of between $1.2 trillion and $1.5 trillion over the next decade.

What changes can the committee consider?

Nothing is “off the table.”   It can consider everything, including tax increases and modifications to social programs.

Is there a deadline by which the committee has to act?

Yes. The committee must send a recommendation to Congress by November 23, 2011 (the day before Thanksgiving).

Can Congress modify the committee's recommendations?

No. This will be an “up or down” vote by a simple majority.

Does Congress have a deadline by which it must act on the recommendations? 

Yes.  Congress must accept or reject the Committee’s recommendation on or before December 23, 2011, (2 days before Christmas). 

Will Committee meetings be open to the public?

That has not been decided.

Don Applestein is an attorney and Public Programs volunteer at the National Constitution Center.

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