Created by on 08/19/2011

The usual quiet of the August congressional recess was temporarily interrupted earlier this month when House and Senate leaders announced the names of the 12 legislators who had been appointed to the new Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction (JCDR). Mandated by The Budget Control Act of 2011 (Public Law 112-25), the JCDR is charged with identifying $1.2 - $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over the next ten years, through future spending cuts, changes in entitlement programs, reforms of the tax code, or any combination of those things. The first meeting of the committee must occur no later than September 16, 2011. However, no specific date has been announced yet. FASEB will track the activities of the JDRC and report on them through this newsletter. Although the JDRC does not have to hold public hearings, any such sessions are required to be publicly announced seven days in advance. To date, no hearings have been scheduled.  
The members of the group represent a wide range of political views but the one thing they have in common is that all have many years of legislative experience. Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) selection of Representatives Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Dave Camp (R-MI), and Fred Upton (R-MI) bring the House Republican Conference Chairman and the leaders of the two committees (Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce) with jurisdiction over health care and entitlement programs to the negotiating table. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) chose Representatives James Clyburn (D-SC), and Xavier Becerra (D-CA), lending some diversity to the committee. In addition, Pelosi selected Representative Christopher Van Hollen (D-MD), the ranking member on the Budget Committee. 
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) picked his deputy in the Republican Leadership (Jon Kyl, AZ), as well as two “freshmen” (Pat Toomey, PA and Rob Portman, OH) who both served several terms in the House. Portman was also the Director of the Office of Management and Budget during the George W. Bush administration. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) appointed Appropriations and Budget Committee member Patty Murray (D-WA), Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT), and John Kerry (D-MA), the third most senior member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation panel.
In identifying an additional $1.2 - $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over the next ten years, the JDRC must consider any recommendations regarding spending cuts that are submitted by the House and Senate “standing committees” (e.g. Appropriations, Budget, Energy and Commerce, Senate Finance, etc.) by October 14th. None have announced yet how they plan to handle the process of submitting input to the JCDR. It is possible that some of the panels may hold hearings to gather suggestions from outside groups.
With the Capitol virtually empty, members of the JDRC have not made many public comments about the work that lies ahead of them. However, a few have started to speak out about their priorities and stake out positions on specific issues that are expected to be considered as part of the upcoming deficit reduction discussions. On August 12th, Representative Van Hollen appeared on a local Washington, DC area radio station and expressed a desire to protect the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from funding cuts stating, “It would be very short-sighted to make cuts to NIH because the history has that the discoveries that they've come up have helped to reduce costs because they’ve developed treatments to various diseases, so I'm very hopeful that we'll be able to protect that very important national investment.” Senator Portman published a “guest column” in the Cleveland Plain Dealer articulating things that Congress could do to help promote economic recovery including “reducing regulatory barriers to medical innovation.” FASEB will work with other organizations in the research community to urge the deficit committee to sustain the federal investment in science.
The fall congressional agenda is certain to be dominated by the deliberations of the JCDR, as well as continued consideration of the unfinished fiscal year (FY) 2012 appropriations bills. With the September 30th end of FY 2011 less than once month after lawmakers return from their summer break and the Senate having completed action on only one of the 12 funding measures, federal agencies will likely be operating under a “continuing resolution” beginning on October 1st. Details about the September legislative schedule are expected to be announced after Labor Day.