Deep cuts in federal spending are coming to Kentucky. The so-called ‘super committee’ is at work slashing more than a trillion dollars from the national debt. The state has two powerful leaders in Congress, yet neither sits on the special panel. Serving in Congress is more than just casting votes. Hoping to make a lasting imprint on the nation’s laws, legislators jockey for favored committee assignment.
In the past that’s enabled Kentucky lawmakers to steer money home or protect local jobs from cuts. Not this time. The twelve-member ‘super committee’ holds the power. Kentucky Democrat John Yarmuth is dubious.
“It’s going to be very difficult. I was very skeptical of the whole process and it’s one of the reasons I voted against the debt ceiling bill,” said Yarmuth
Much like DC lobbyists, Kentucky’s rank and file lawmakers are clamoring to be heard. Republican Senator Rand Paul has sent the committee a budget proposal, and ideas to reform Medicare and Social Security.
“I think the people on our side have been open to hearing suggestions, and we’re sending them suggestions all the time,” said Paul.
The joint committee has received more than one hundred and seventy five thousand recommendations. That means many suggestions made by Kentucky lawmakers are getting lost in a sea of requests. But the state still has two key players. Congressman Hal Rogers chairs the House spending committee and Mitch McConnell is the top Republican in the Senate. Republican Congressman Brett Guthrie says those two lawmakers are important to this special process.
“Obviously nobody knows the appropriations process in this town, probably, better than Hal Rogers and he’s a great asset. So it is important to Kentucky to have to the minority leader on the Senate side and having a chairman of one of the top committees here,” said Guthrie.
Many lawmakers are calling for tax reform. Rogers doesn’t have a formal role on the panel, but he’s cautioning against such sweeping changes.
“I don’t think there’s time to do that. That’s going to take probably some years to do,” said Rogers.
More eyes in Washington are on Senator McConnell. As a party leader he’s held private meetings with the panel. Since he know best what his membership will support, McConnell will most likely sign off on any proposal before it goes public. Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker says party leaders are largely in control the process. If the committee fails, Corker says leaders like McConnell are to blame.
“Look this will be a total failure of leadership if this goal isn’t achieved. So I’m going to try to do everything that I can by applying pressure in every way that I can,” said Corker.
That’s Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution. Mann says McConnell and other leaders stacked the deck against a broad compromise by appointing loyal party lieutenants to the committee.
“It won’t happen. End of story. I mean it really won’t,” said Mann.
But Guthrie sees it differently. He says McConnell and other leaders allow their diverse caucus’ to have a voice as a plan is written. Guthrie says that’s vital.
“The ‘super committee’ needs to be an expression of the will of the Congress or it’s going to be difficult going forward if it’s not,” said Guthrie.
Built into the law are more than a trillion dollars in triggered cuts if no agreement is reached – half in defense and the other six hundred billion in programs such as health care, education and transportation. Now it’s a waiting game as the ‘super committee’ works with McConnell and the other party leaders to forge a compromise. They only have a few weeks left and the pressure is mounting.