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Toomey selected for deficit task force

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Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011

Sen. Pat Toomey got a seat on Wednesday on perhaps the most influential committee in Washington, another step in his swift ascent from establishment outcast to Senate heavyweight.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appointed the Lehigh County Republican to the 12-member deficit reduction committee along with Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Rob Portman of Ohio. The committee must submit a plan by Nov. 23 to cut the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion.

Congressional leaders and President Obama are counting on the committee to validate a debt deal that helped spark a market sell-off and prompted Standard & Poor's last week to downgrade the country's credit rating. Other rating agencies warned they might downgrade U.S. debt if Congress and the committee don't shed enough debt.

"If this committee is going to be successful, it absolutely has to have bipartisan support. That's the way it's designed," said Toomey, the only committee member appointed so far who voted against the debt deal.

If the committee deadlocks or Congress rejects its plan, it triggers unpopular spending cuts, including hundreds of billions of dollars in defense and Medicare cuts.

"We all have very good reasons to try to prevent those triggers," Toomey said.

Just a few years ago, when Toomey was president of the conservative Club for Growth, Senate Republicans attacked him for funding primary challenges against moderate GOP incumbents. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in 2009 that Toomey did not have a chance of getting elected.

Since he won last year, the former investment banker has introduced a federal budget bill -- an unusual move for a freshman senator -- as well as a plan to stave off default had the debt ceiling not been raised. Both won his leadership's support.

"From his first day in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Toomey has demonstrated a deep understanding of fiscal matters and is a leader on budget and deficit issues," McConnell said.

Toomey's reach has not extended beyond Republicans. No Democrat voted for his budget. In the debt limit debate, the senator gave voice to conservatives wary of compromise.

"This is a time when he's going to be tested," said Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College, in Toomey's home county. Toomey has shown he can take a principled stand, Borick said. Now the country, credit rating agencies and his constituents will be watching to see whether he can cut a deal.

Republicans kept tax increases out of the Aug. 2 deal, but Democrats said they expect this committee to include new revenue in its final plan. A compromise could involve eliminating loopholes and subsidies, Toomey said.

"The goal should be to broaden the base and lower (tax) rates, so that we can create an environment that's more conducive to economic growth," he said.

The Sunlight Foundation, a group that advocates for government transparency, sent letters to the leaders saying the committee's meetings "must be open to public scrutiny in order to maintain public faith in its work." House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, echoed the sentiment yesterday.

"With all that's at stake, I expect that the joint select committee will conduct its work in the open and transparent manner the American people deserve," Boehner said in announcing his appointees.

Some of the committee's work, however, likely will have to take place behind closed doors, Toomey said.

"As we do our work and as we conduct our discussions, it would probably be constructive if we don't do all of it through the media," Toomey said. "Certainly there's going to be a very substantial public process here, but exactly what that process looks like I don't know at this point."

The "Super Committee"

House and Senate leaders choose the committee's 12 members, with each caucus leader getting three appointees.

House Republicans (Speaker John Boehner)

-- Jeb Hensarling of Texas, co-chairman

-- Dave Camp of Michigan

-- Fred Upton of Michigan

House Democrats (Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi)

-- No appointments yet

Senate Democrats (Majority Leader Harry Reid)

-- Patty Murray of Washington, co-chairwoman

-- Max Baucus of Montana

-- John Kerry of Massachusetts

Senate Republicans (Minority Leader Mitch McConnell)

-- Pat Toomey of Lehigh County

-- Jon Kyl of Arizona

-- Rob Portman of Ohio

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