WASHINGTON — Democratic US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday he was naming Democratic Senators Patty Murray, Max Baucus and John Kerry to a new congressional "supercommittee" on US debt woes.
"As the events of the past week have made clear, the world is watching the work of this committee," Reid said, referring to America's historic loss of its top-notch credit rating, which fueled market upheaval.
The picks highlight the high political and economic stakes as the new 12-member panel hunts for ways to rein in runaway US budget deficits by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years, with recommendations due by November 23.
Murray, the number-two Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, also leads the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee tasked with preserving and expanding the party's majority in the November 2012 elections.
The panel's chairman, Democratic Senator Kent Conrad, is retiring.
Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax and trade issues as well as government-backed health care programs for the poor and elderly that could be targeted for long-term savings.
Kerry, his party's Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, sits on Baucus's committee and has not shied from blaming the US debt rating downgrade on the archconservative "Tea Party" movement.
"I am confident that Senators Murray, Baucus and Kerry will bring the thoughtfulness, bipartisanship and commitment to a balanced approach that will produce the best outcome for the American people," said Reid.
Reid's reference to a "balanced" approach could augur congressional gridlock -- President Barack Obama uses the term to mean a blend spending cuts and tax increases, but Republicans have vowed to reject any such hikes.
If the panel deadlocks, or Congress fails to approve its recommendations, the debt-limit deal calls for painful automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion to the military and health care for the elderly, designed to be so politically costly to both sides as to compel a compromise.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were due to pick three committee members each by early next week.