For a time, it looked like the debt “super committee” wouldn’t exactly be super-diverse.
As the names began to surface for the Democratic and Republican lawmakers who will be part of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, called for in the compromise legislation that raised the debt ceiling, it became increasingly obvious that the committee did not look like America.
By Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner’s picks had surfaced: Democratic Senators Patty Murray of Washington (who will serve as co-chair), John Kerry of Massachusetts and Max Baucus of Montana, Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania (former head of the anti-tax Club for Growth) and Rob Portman of Ohio; and House Republicans Dave Camp (the House ways and means chairman) and Fred Upton Michigan and Jeb Hensarling of Texas. Those picks certainly represent a geographic cross-section of the country — but not a demographic one.
In a country that’s increasingly ethnically diverse, the prospect of a committee with not a single person of color on it was an odd picture in 2012, though it’s one painted both by the realities of politics and particularly, Senate demographics.
There are currently no African-American Senators and just two Hispanic-Americans in the “upper chamber”: Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Florida Republican Marco Rubio.
In the House, Speaker John Boehner’s sole options for naming a black member would have been tea party freshmen Tim Scott of South Carolina and Florida’s Allen West, but with the” tea party’s image in tatters following its House members’ flirtation with letting the country default by failing to raise the debt ceiling, such a move might have appeared counterproductive. Besides, creating a “grand bargain” to tackle spending, entitlements and potentially, “revenues” — is no job for freshmen.
There are 26 Latino members of Congress of the 112th Congress, including the two Senators; seven of whom are Republicans. And there are 41 black House members, with Scott and West being the lone Republicans.
So with 9 of the 12 select committee members chosen, increasing the committee’s diversity came down to Pelosi, who on Thursday named assistant House Leader James Clyburn of South Carolina (the highest ranking African-American in Congress), Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, and California Rep. Xavier Becerra, ranking member of the House Ways and Means committee, to the commission. Pelositweeted the announcement, saying the three would “focus on economic growth and job creation, which reduces [the[ deficit.”
With that, Pelosi closed the loop on a committee that otherwise would have had no members from the Southeast, or from two of the country’s three most populous states, no black or Hispanic members, and just one woman.
Well, the committee still has just one woman.
There’s room for debate whether it’s necessary for every single group must be represented in the room when national policy is debated. There are no Asian-American members of the committee, no gays or lesbians, no Native Americans, etc., And it’s arguable that politicians are supposed to represent the interests of all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity or sex. (There’s also room for debate whether congress should be doing business via “super committee” at all.) And Pelosi and Reid’s picks reflect the reality of a more sexually and racially diverse political party, with more women and people of color in Congress and on key committees.
It also seems fundamentally unfair to burden Clyburn and Becerra with de facto representing the interests of entire groups of Americans who are themselves diverse within their ethnic groups (or for Rep. Murray to be in the same position for women.) And clearly, all three represent constituents different from themselves.
And yet, the prospect of a committee debating fundamental changes to the U.S. economy, potential cuts in vital programs and services, and even potential changes to the entitlement programs that serve the entire nation, and having no representation from groups representing nearly a third of the population, just seemed like an odd way to run a country.