With a few exceptions, members of the supercommittee charged with wresting $1.2 trillion or more from the federal deficit don't have much experience in retirement issues or even tax policy. But with all the revenue raisers on the table, that could soon change.
Created by the Budget Control Act, enacted on Aug. 2 to raise the U.S. debt ceiling and avoid the federal government's immediate default, the panel is supposed to produce the legislation that cuts the federal deficit long term. Its members have three short months to achieve what their leaders could not, or risk triggering painful spending cuts across the board.
The 12 members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, better known as the supercommittee, are Republican Reps. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Dave Camp of Michigan and Fred Upton of Michigan; Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rob Portman of Ohio; Democratic Reps. James Clyburn of South Carolina, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Xavier Becerra of California; and Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Max Baucus of Montana and John Kerry of Massachusetts.
Some — like Mr. Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee; Mr. Baucus, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee; and Mr. Van Hollen, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee — are seasoned tax veterans familiar with recurring revenue proposals including capping retirement tax incentives and requiring investment partnerships to pay tax on carried interest. Mr. Van Hollen and fellow Democrats also have called for increasing tax rates for corporations and individuals who make $500,000 or more.
Mr. Portman stands out as well versed in the nuts-and-bolts of pension issues, as well as federal spending, thanks to his tenure as director of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush.
Mr. Portman has “always been very supportive (of retirement savings) and had a good understanding of why it's important to encourage business owners to put in plans,” Judy Miller, director of retirement policy at the Arlington, Va.-based American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries, said in an interview.
In 2001, Mr. Portman co-sponsored The Comprehensive Retirement Security and Pension Reform Act. Enacted as part of a larger economic package, it raised limits on employee contributions to 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plans and allowed for catch-up contributions and faster vesting of employer contributions.
His work on that legislation earned him respect from the act's co-sponsor Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md. “He has a good working knowledge of retirement issues, and will work to not only preserve but expand opportunities for saving for retirement,” Mr. Cardin said in an interview. “He will bring sensitivity about the importance of the tax code for retirement savings. He understands this it is a deferral issue and that in the long run it won't give us additional revenue.” Still, “we're playing more defense than offense these days,” he conceded.