Congress funnels deficit-cutting ideas to supercommittee

WASHINGTON -- When it set up a "supercommittee" to find $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, Congress also asked other committees to weigh in with advice about what spending to cut.

Today is the deadline for those recommendations. And much of the advice so far is about what not to cut.

Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, sent an 11-page letter offering no cuts but warning of "dire consequences" if the supercommittee does nothing — triggering $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., was equally unwilling to discuss further defense cuts.

McKeon's advice to the supercommittee Thursday: "They need to do the job by working on the entitlement side, which is the big driver of the problem," he said. "However they work it out, that's their problem."

The 12-member panel, officially the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, has a deadline until Nov. 23 to suggest at least $1.5 trillion in budget-balancing measures over 10 years.

Most of the advice Thursday came from a coordinated letter-writing blitz by House Democrats, who put forward proposals from 16 House committees. Many urged the supercommittee to spend more on job creation. They suggested savings from the thousands to the billions.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said Congress should cut $124million in unclaimed seat belt safety grants to states. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., suggested curtailing the use of military flights by the secretary of the Treasury, which he said could save millions a year. And Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said cutting the number of nuclear warheads from 5,000 to 500 could save $100 billion.

"The consistent theme in everything they have said is that job creation equals deficit reduction," said Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

House Republicans are taking a lower-key approach. Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said committee chairmen are "constantly discussing deficit-reduction options" with Republicans on the supercommittee. "That will continue," he said.

Some committees made recommendations, but aren't releasing them. Zachary Kurz, a spokesman for the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, says its advice is "an internal document."

That lack of transparency has led Angela Canterbury of the Project on Government Oversight to dub the panel the "supersecret committee."

Canterbury joined 10 other transparency advocacy groups Thursday in calling on committees to post all the proposals to committee websites, saying. "You also have a responsibility to the American public to shine a light on your contributions to this process."

Some key panels aren't making any recommendations. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said this week there's no shortage of folks on Capitol Hill who are offering advice and suggestions. He questioned whether more recommendations from his committee would help the supercommittee, or just add to its burden.