Republican Staff Member, Steeped in Tax Law, Is Chosen to Lead Deficit Panel Staff
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WASHINGTON -- Even in the silence of the August recess, the special Congressional committee focused on deficit reduction has begun to hum to life. On Tuesday, the panel announced it had chosen a veteran Senate Republican staff member to take over the challenging job of running the bipartisan panel and its staff.
The leaders of the committee chose Mark A. Prater, the chief tax counsel for Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee, to serve as staff director of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, a group of six senators and six House members, evenly divided by party, charged with coming up with $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions over 10 years to present to Congress by Thanksgiving.
After the announcement, Republican committee members met on Capitol Hill to discuss previous deficit reduction ideas and their own plans. Committee Democrats have a conference call scheduled for Wednesday. Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, speaking in Nevada, said he expected the panel to begin hearings as early as the week after Labor Day.
Mr. Prater, 52, with more than two decades of experience on the powerful tax-writing and revenue panel, has won respect and trust in both parties for his work on initiatives like the 1997 budget agreement under President Bill Clinton that led to the federal children's health insurance program. Mr. Prater also was credited for his work on the 1990 budget agreement that broke the first President George Bush's "read my lips" pledge on taxes.
"Mark has a well-earned reputation for being a workhorse who members of both parties have relied on," the leaders of the deficit committee, Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, and Representative Jeb Hensarling, Republican of Texas, said in a joint statement.
Some Democrats privately grumbled that they would have preferred a Democrat, or would like one as a deputy director.
But finding someone who could meet the approval of both Democrats and Republicans was proving difficult. Mr. Prater was deemed a suitable choice who could also pass muster with conservative Republicans on the panel, but also had a long history of brokering deals with Democrats. The two parties are deeply divided on how to beat back the federal deficit; Democrats are seeking revenue increases that Republicans have studiously rejected.
"I was his counterpart working for Senator Moynihan," Jon Talisman, a tax lobbyist and assistant secretary of the treasury for tax policy in the Clinton administration, said of Mr. Prater while mentioning the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York. "He has historically had good relationships working on both sides of the aisle."
The fact that Mr. Prater is a tax lawyer long accustomed to finding the secrets buried in tax codes suggests that the committee is serious about looking at major changes to the tax system, although the short time frame suggests that only the framework for such changes, rather than sea change legislation, could probably be achieved. If the committee does not come up with $1.2 trillion in savings, a series of across-the-board cuts would be made to vast areas of government.
Mr. Reid alluded to both the stakes, and the difficulties. "There's tremendous pressure on this select committee," he said, "because if they don't arrive at a conclusion that's meaningful, then we go into what we call sequestration, which would be across-the-board cuts. I spoke to Secretary Panetta in the last few days," he said, referring to Leon E. Panetta, the defense secretary, "and those cuts would be extremely, extremely difficult for the security of our country. So I wish the 12 members of the select committee the very best to move forward in arranging our country's finances."
First Published August 31, 2011 12:00 am