House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi recently appointed one of Maryland’s own, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. This is the so-called "super committee" that has been charged with finding $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in federal budget deficit savings, to stave off the threat of severe automatic cuts that will be triggered if Republicans and Democrats fail to reach agreement.
For Van Hollen, already a well-respected voice on budgetary issues and a rising star among House Democrats, the appointment carries both great opportunity and great risk.
The opportunity is that his appointment underscores the rising position of influence he has attained within the House Democratic caucus. This can add to his appeal back home as a leader who can deliver the goods and make things happen for the people of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, or it can backfire.
Congress has never been held in lower esteem by voters nationally. After the embarrassing spectacle of the debt ceiling debacle, voters are looking to leaders in both parties to stop the bickering and solve this thing, even if that means no one gets everything they want. Based on recent performance, the odds of them succeeding don’t look so good. Yet, if an agreement does come together, Van Hollen (D-8th) could emerge as one of the leading voices on the Democratic side of the aisle.
The biggest risk for him is if he tries to play it too safe. One of the core problems that has undermined Congress’s ability to function is the political pressure from back home in "safe" districts like Van Hollen's. It may prove too tempting to play to the usual constituency groups that make up much of the local Democratic Party's activist base, which would argue against any substantive compromises on entitlement reform or taxes. The same is true on the Republican side.
Van Hollen and his fellow super committee members have some incredibly tough choices to make, and our local Representative is now on the hot seat.
So will he try to placate his party's base by resisting any effort to compromise at all? Or will he stand up and press for a more comprehensive solution — even a politically risky one — that might risk upsetting his loyal Democratic base?
Voters want this issue solved, and they expect members of Congress to compromise with each other when necessary for the greater good. My money is on Van Hollen to rise to the occasion and find a way forward. What do you think?