UPDATE: Yes, there is an African-American legislator — and a Latino lawmaker — on the "super committee." On Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced her picks. They are Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Xavier Beccera of California and (as The Root suggested below) James Clyburn of South Carolina.
Now that Congress has avoided a federal default by agreeing to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts, its leaders are working on the next phase of the plan: creating a "super committee," charged with cutting $1.5 trillion from the deficit by Nov. 23. This week the panel, which will have six Democrats and six Republicans split evenly between the House and Senate, began to take shape.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got the Democratic side started with the announcement that he will appoint Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Max Baucus of Montana and John Kerry of Massachusetts. On Wednesday, Republican leaders filled their spots. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Sens. John Kyl of Arizona, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rob Portman of Ohio. House Speaker John Boehner went with Reps. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Dave Camp of Michigan, and Fred Upton of Michigan.
Now all eyes are on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who so far has kept her selections close to the vest. But Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver has some ideas on what she ought to keep in mind.
"I just wrote a note to send to Nancy Pelosi," Cleaver told The Root on Wednesday. "I said that, 'Based on my experience with you, there's little doubt that you are going to appoint a diverse committee from the House Democratic Caucus.' The bad part of this is that all of the [racial] diversity among the 12 participants falls on her. But there's probably not been one second during which she did not plan to appoint a diverse trio."
Christian Dorsey, director of external and government affairs for the Economic Policy Institute, said that having an African-American lawmaker on the committee is critical. "I think it's incredibly important to not only have a committee charged with reflecting America's various political values, but reflecting America's geographic and racial sensibilities," he told The Root. "These decisions are going to essentially dictate how discretionary spending occurs in this country for the next decade, and if you don't have people who represent communities who are comprised significantly of people of color, then you don't really have a super committee that's representing America."
Dorsey argued that, since many black lawmakers live in majority-black districts with extremely high unemployment rates, they would be inclined to find deficit solutions that don't inflict additional pain on struggling Americans and that provide room to invest in job creation. Cleaver agrees — although he adds that plenty of nonblack House Democrats would be able to do that, too.
"It doesn't necessarily take anyone African American to identify with the poor," Cleaver said. "But I think the absence of an African American clearly sets off alarm bells to not only the CBC but to the nation."
There's certainly no shortage of black lawmakers who are well-versed on economic issues. Here's a rundown of those who could potentially be under super-committee consideration, what they'd add to the mix and where they stand on Congress' latest debt decisions.
Represents: South Carolina's 6th District
Economic experience: The third-ranking Democrat in the House, Clyburn was a member of Vice President Biden's original bipartisan debt group, which worked for three months to reach a deficit-reduction agreement before hitting the debt-ceiling deadline.
What he'd bring: Respected and expert negotiating skills. As the former majority whip, he was tasked with the tricky job of rounding up Democratic votes for the October 2008 Wall Street bailout, and he successfully whipped up Blue Dog support for health care reform in 2010. Known for his tenacity for sticking to his principles, while also being able to reach across the aisle to find areas of compromise, he's got a strong chance of being picked by Pelosi.
Debt-ceiling deal vote: Yea. In a statement after the House vote, Clyburn wrote, "Governing, especially during a period of divided government, requires compromise. I do not like everything about this bill, and I want us to turn our focus to creating jobs and growing the economy through smart investments in infrastructure, innovation and education. But I recognize that the situation we find ourselves in necessitates that we make difficult choices and concessions to prevent default and reduce the deficit."
Represents: Virginia's 3rd District
Economic experience: Scott formerly served on the House Budget Committee. He also drafted this year's Congressional Black Caucus Budget, which took the deficit-fighting approach of increasing tax-based revenue, such as closing corporate tax loopholes.
What he'd bring: Flexibility. From building partnerships between the public and private sectors, to making investments in advanced research and technology, Scott is open to a variety of ways to spark economic growth. That anti-dogmatic sensibility may be a good fit for finding broadly accepted solutions. And as one of the only members of Congress to push for legislation to assist the long-term unemployed, or "99ers," he would keep the perspective of Americans struggling to make ends meet at the table.
Debt-ceiling deal vote: Nay. "We are asking low income families, seniors, children, beneficiaries of government programs and graduate students to help pay for extending tax cuts for millionaires," Scott wrote in a statement about the bill. "That's just not right and we should have never gotten to this point. We should have been more responsible last December and been honest with the American people about the true cost of these tax cuts."
Represents: Minnesota's 5th District
Economic experience: Ellison has used his degree in economics toward his congressional agenda, which has included legislation focused on jobs for unemployed Americans in distressed communities. He's also a member of the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees all components of the nation's financial sectors and reviews international finance agencies such as the World Bank and IMF.
What he'd bring: A strong progressive voice. As a former community activist and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Ellison is known for passionately sticking up for "the little guy." He's got ideas to back up his fiery image, having worked on the Progressive Caucus' budget, which stressed fiscal responsibility while also investing in job creation and infrastructure.
Debt-ceiling deal vote: Nay. "My vote against this bill was a difficult one since it raises the debt ceiling. America must not default on its debts," Ellison wrote in a statement explaining his vote. "Ultimately I came down against this bill because it is taking the country in the wrong direction by extracting money from the economy at the very time we should be doing everything we can to uphold our economy and create jobs."
Represents: Pennsylvania's 2nd District
Economic experience: Fattah is a member of the influential House Appropriations Committee, which has oversees federal discretionary spending laws.
What he'd bring: Ideas on tax reform. Way back in 2004, Fattah introduced a proposal to scrap the current tax system — including income, corporate and payroll taxes — in favor of a transaction fee-based tax system. The idea may be overly ambitious, but his openness to trying new things would be an interesting mix to the debt-reduction conversation.
Debt-ceiling deal vote: Yea. "What really is persuasive to me is the upside of this agreement," Fattah wrote of his support for the bill. "Finally, defense spending is on the table — just like the other so-called 'discretionary' programs — when the conversation turns to cutting the deficit. We have protected and increased education spending, especially the Pell Grant student loan program that had been imperiled."