Posted on August 16, 2011

Debt Supercommittee Lacks Diversity

Felicia Sonmez, Washington Post, August 14, 2011

With House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) announcement Thursday of her three appointees to the bipartisan debt “supercommittee,” the panel’s 12-member roster is complete. It represents a broad range of ideological views, from House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Tex.) on the right to Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) on the left.

But the group’s membership is marked by a problem that has plagued Congress–a lack of gender and racial diversity.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is the only woman on the panel. House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) is the group’s only Hispanic. And House Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn (S.C.) is the only African American.

Neither Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) nor House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) appointed any women or minorities among their six picks for the panel.


The Senate faces a particular lack of racial diversity: Its membership includes two Hispanics–Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)–and two Asian Americans–Sens. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii). No African American senators currently sit in the chamber; the last to serve was Roland Burris (D-Ill.), who retired last year from the seat formerly held by President Obama and was succeeded in November by Sen. Mark Kirk (R).

Some on the committee argue that experience, not gender or race, is the factor that matters most in the calculus of who takes part in the debt discussions.


Even so, some lawmakers and outside groups have argued that if Congress has tapped the supercommittee to make decisions that affect the country as a whole, its membership should better reflect the country.

“Half the committee ought to be women, even though women only account for 17 percent of the Congress,” Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, said in an interview Friday. {snip}


Rep. Charles A. Gonzalez (D-Tex.), chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said that the stakes in the debt talks are particularly high for Hispanics.

“While every American would be impacted by the committee’s plan to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion, the Latino community has the most at stake if further cuts are made to programs critical to getting our economy back on track,” Gonzalez said. “Latino families have been greatly impacted by the housing crisis and recession, with unemployment rates for our community consistently higher than average.”