The least glamorous but most important part of the agreement that reopened the government last week is the creation of a 29-member committee charged with making recommendations regarding an immediate budget and a long-term plan to reduce the national debt.
The committee is bipartisan, composed of Democrats and Republicans from both the House and Senate, and it is required to present its report by Dec. 13.
Auspiciously, the committee membership is diverse, with politicians from across the ideological spectrum. That fact makes more likely both the possibility of the development of a worthy set of balanced recommendations and the adoption of those recommendations by the full Congress.
The committee is headed by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash, and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. Other members are: U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., and U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. That sample already illustrates the broad range of perspectives that will need to be reconciled.
The committee is focused on crafting annual budgets, as well as a long-term blueprint — maybe 10 or more years long — designed to begin a path toward better, more sustainable fiscal health for the nation. Near-term budgets and the fiscal profile of the government in the distant future are, of course, closely related, and one should not be considered without the other.
Congress has been trying for about four years (or more) now to create a master plan to address both the tax code and government spending. The Wall Street meltdown and subsequent recession have complicated the effort immensely because, naturally, it is more difficult to reduce government spending — and thereby lay off employees and end government contracts — when times are tough.