Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), pictured at the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge… (Gail Oskin / Getty Images )
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the first appointees to a congressional super-committee charged with tackling the federal deficit, but the Democratic choices offer few signs that the panel can resolve the partisan stalemate that has only hardened in Congress amid the nation's worsening economic outlook.
Reid tapped Sen. Patty Murray of Washington to co-chair the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, and also named Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. Republicans have until Tuesday to name their choices, but are expected to do so sooner.
The work of the 12-member committee has taken on new urgency after Standard & Poor's, one of three main credit rating agencies, downgraded U.S. debt, from AAA to AA+, for the first time in the nation's history.
S&P cited the political "brinksmanship" in Washington and the seeming inability of the political system to seriously tackle deficit reform as key reasons for the downgrade.
The fledgling congressional committee has three months to recommend $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade – a goal that eluded congressional negotiators in prolonged debates during the recent debt ceiling fight.
"As the events of the past week have made clear, the world is watching the work of this committee," Reid said in a statement. He noted that among the three senators "their legislative accomplishments are matched only by their records of forging strong bonds with their Republican colleagues."
But the establishment of the committee has drawn only further skepticism that Washington will be able to forge a compromise on the difficult issues of tax revenue and entitlement reform that eluded past negotiators.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, who will appoint the other co-chair, told rank-and-file Republican lawmakers on Tuesday he would be announcing his choices "in the coming days."
"You can be confident the people I select to represent our conference will be people of courage who understand the gravity of this situation and are committed to doing what needs to be done," Boehner told lawmakers during a conference call, according to aides.