WASHINGTON — Hours after Congress and the White House agreed that a yet-unformed "super-committee" from the House and Senate should decide how to slash the deficit in coming months, a Washington parlor game began: Who will the 12 "super members" be?
Speculation ran rampant Wednesday on Capitol Hill, although congressional leaders, weary from the bruising debt ceiling battle, kept quiet about whom they might tap. Instead, they gamely offered up the necessary qualifications for the potential candidates. Each one must be "serious," "open-minded," "principled" and, perhaps, a "glutton for punishment."
Given the partisan acrimony dominating Congress, and the start of a presidential campaign that will focus on the nation's economic woes, few raised their hands for what most predict will be a thankless job. With six Democrats and six Republicans, the committee is widely thought to be destined to deadlock on key decisions, and thus guaranteed to deliver frustration, criticism, high pressure and long meetings.
Some of the most prominent prospects quickly appeared to be running in the other direction.
"I treasure my August with my family," said Sen. Jon Kyl, the retiring Arizona Republican and Senate minority whip, adding that he could come up with "lots of reasons" why he wouldn't want to serve. "I'm not that much of a glutton for punishment. My bladder isn't that strong. This is going to take an odd kind of person to serve on the committee."
Creation of the committee was mandated by the debt-ceiling measure signed into law Tuesday by President Barack Obama. The panel could recommend significant cuts to almost any part of the federal budget and also could propose changes to the tax code. And if its members agree on a plan, both houses of Congress would be required to give it an up or down vote — no amendments — giving the committee's choices huge import.
The Republican members will be chosen by House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, three from each chamber. Their Democratic counterparts, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, also have three selections each. The leaders have two weeks to make their picks, and the committee has until Nov. 23, just before the Thanksgiving recess, to do its work.
It is widely expected that none of the Senate members will be people facing re-election in 2012 and that the House picks will hail from safe seats.
And Washington lobbyists predict the panel will inaugurate one of the most intense periods of influence peddling in the capital's history.