Tapped Thursday for the bipartisan congressional committee that will be charged with finding $1.5 trillion in federal deficit reduction, Rep. Chris Van Hollen said the panel should focus on jobs.
"Putting America back to work is the best and most immediate way to reduce our deficit as we also develop and implement a balanced plan to establish long-term fiscal discipline and sustained economic growth," the Montgomery County Democrat said in a statement Thursday. "Our plan should put jobs first, sharpen America's competitive edge, ensure health and retirement security, and require shared responsibility from those who have done so well even during these tough economic times. Together, we can build a prosperous and secure future for all Americans."
Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, was chosen by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to serve on the 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which was created last week as part of the deal to raise the federal debt ceiling.
The legislation charged the so-called supercommittee with identifying $1.2 to $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction by Nov. 23. That's on top of some $900 billion in cuts ordered over the next 10 years.
If the supercommittee is unable to agree on the additional reductions, or if Congress does not accept its recommendations, the law imposes automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion.
Pelosi said the panel "has a golden opportunity to take its discussions to the higher ground of America's greatness and its values."In a statement, she said the committee must focus on economic growth and job creation; make decisions regarding investments, cuts and revenues and their timing to stimulate growth; and increase demand by offering recommendations that ensure that wages grow with productivity and reduce America's families' dependence on credit.
"We must achieve a 'grand bargain' that reduces the deficit by addressing our entire budget, while strengthening Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security," Pelosi said.
Where Democrats speak of increasing revenues by closing what they characterize as tax loopholes and allowing tax cuts initially signed by President George Bush to expire, Republicans have focused on cutting spending.
Earlier this week, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell cited "chronic joblessness, out-of-control deficits and debt," and described entitlement programs as "the biggest drivers of our debt."
House Speaker John Boehner said "our debt and deficits are a threat to our economy, and America cannot achieve long-term job growth until we take action to address this crisis."
He said the supercommittee "presents an opportunity for both parties to bring to the table their best ideas, debate them on the merits, and ultimately come together to do what's best for our country."
"The two parties have fundamental differences about government and its proper role in our society," Boehner said. "Where we've been able to agree, we have acted, and in a way consistent with the American people's desire for a smaller, less costly, and more accountable government. Still, the differences remain, and so does the urgent work of returning our economy to creating jobs and lifting the crushing burden of debt that threatens our children's future."
The supercommittee is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans each from the House and the Senate, selected by each party's leader in each chamber.
With Pelosi's announcement, the membership is now complete. In addition to Van Hollen, it includes Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Patty Murray of Washington, Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Rob Portman of Ohio and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Democratic Reps. James Clyburn of South Carolina and Xavier Becerra of California and Republican Reps. Dave Camp of Michigan, Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Fred Upton of Michigan. Murray and Hensarling have been named co-chairs.
Van Hollen, who represents parts of Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland's Washington suburbs, could use his position to give voice to the tens of thousands of federal workers whose jobs have been threatened during the deficit debate by talk of spending cuts.