Comparing the Super Committees

One common feature of both the Reid (S. 1323) and Boehner (S. 627) debt ceiling bills is a “Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction”  with the power to report legislation (almost) directly to the House and Senate that is entitled to consideration under modified fast-track procedures.  The Boehner version prevailed and was included in the debt-ceiling legislation, with no changes, on August 2.

The language of the provisions creating these “super” committees is so similar that it’s clear that the two bills have a common origin, but they differ on their revenue targets and on authority to write tax legislation.  The Reid bill empowers the committee to “include recommendations and legislative language on tax reform” in its report.  The Boehner version that ultimately prevailed on August 2 omits the language on tax reform but it contains no specific prohibition on writing tax legislation.   

In public comments, the Speaker has emphasized that it would be nearly impossible for the Committee to propose significant tax reform, but other commentators are not so sure.  The Wall Street Journal editorialized that the committee could “end up proposing tax increases.”

Here are the commonalities:

  1. Membership – – 12 members, with 3 each chosen by the Speaker, the House minority leader, and the majority and minority leaders of the Senate. 
  2. Approval Threshold – – 7 of 12 members.  At least one member must cross party lines in order for the committee to report.
  3. Deadlines – – Committee vote on recommendations due Nov. 23, 2011.  Committee report due by December 2nd.  Committees of jurisdiction must report by December 9th.  Floor vote on final passage due December 23rd.
  4. Fast Track Procedures  – – in nearly identical language, the bills would be entitled to consideration with 4 hours of debate in the House and 30 hours in the Senate.  Cloture would be invoked by the terms of the legislation, so that 50 Senators and the V.P. could determine the outcome.   The chamber that acts first gets precedence, unless the bill contains revenue measures, in which case the House bill takes precedence.
  5. Role of Committees – – In both bills the Super Committee report is referred to committees for 7 days for an up or down recommendation.  In the Senate, the committees with jurisdiction are “automatically discharged” if they fail to report, and in the House, a motion to discharge the committees becomes in order after 7 days.  Committees are also allowed to submit recommendations to the Super Committee by October 14, 2011.


  1. Revenue Targets – – The goal of the committee in the Reid bill is to reduce the deficit to “3 percent of GDP.”  The Boehner bill sets a goal of $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction from 2012 to 2021.
  2. Tax Reform – – The Reid bill allows the Super Committee to include “recommendations and legislative language on tax reform” in its report.  The Boehner bill omits this language, and it also revises the language referring to the Joint Committee on Taxation.  The JCT is not mentioned in the bill text, but there is a cross-reference to a section of the Budget Act that clarifies JCT’s role in providing tax estimates.

Note:  Updated Aug. 4.

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