“Super Committee” co-chairs Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) have announced that the panel’s top staffer will be senior Republican Senate Finance Committee aide Mark Prater.
“The know-how and experience Mark brings to this difficult task is exactly what we agreed must be the top priority for the staff serving all the members of this Committee,” Murray and Hensarling said in an official statement. “Mark has a well-earned reputation for being a workhorse who members of both parties have relied on. We look forward to working with him and are confident that his approach and expertise will be valuable as we weigh the difficult but necessary choices ahead.”Prater is currently chief tax counsel for Senate Finance Committee Republicans–an interesting specialty if you’re running a panel that most expected would be devoted mainly to reducing spending on federal programs. He is respected, and considered non-ideological — “If anyone knows how to create a fair, balanced solution that can make everyone a winner in a difficult situation like this, it’s Mark Prater,” said a senior Congressional Democratic aide. Fairness and balance have become code words in this fight for new tax revenue.
But the fact that he’s a Republican will rankle Democrats and liberals who already worry the panel will recommend cuts to entitlement programs with little if any new money flowing into Treasury.
And that’s still the key. We already know what the GOP members hope to accomplish here — the question is whether Democrats will draw bright lines on cuts to entitlements if Republicans refuse to budge on new tax revenues. A Republican with significant tax expertise will be fairly well positioned to find ways to accommodate Dems to some extent or other on revenue.
Last week, as hurricane fever gripped the beltway, Hensarling said he couldn’t take anything, including new tax revenues, off the table. “If I start to take something off the table, then maybe Senator Murray takes something off the table and the talks fail before they even get started,” he said. Picking a staff director with considerable expertise in this field means taxes may be on the table in some way — the questions will be how much or how little, and what Democrats are willing to trade away for that revenue.