Super Committee choice for top staffer is solid

The decision to look past politics in picking the top staff member is a sign committee members can work together.

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Generally, it makes little difference to those of us who live outside of Washington, D.C. -- outside the Beltway, as they say in D.C. -- who is picked to serve as staff members for Congressional committees.

But a recent staff announcement out of Washington does make a great deal of difference to the entire country. It signals a willingness of Democrats and Republicans to compromise.

Mark Prater, a Portland native, tax-policy expert and Republican, was picked to be the top staffer for the Super Committee, which was formed as part of the deal to raise the nation's debt ceiling. The committee, also known as the Deficit Reduction Committee, has been charged with reducing the national debt by at least $1.2 trillion over next 10 years.

This bipartisan committee -- six Democrats, six Republicans from the House and Senate -- must come up with a plan by Thanksgiving day. And the plan must then go before the House and Senate without amendment. It will be a simple up or down vote by Christmas.

If the plan is rejected by either house of Congress the federal government will face automatic and painful cuts to discretionary programs, including the Department of Defense, beginning Jan. 15.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is one of the co-chairs of the committee. The other is Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.

Prater is a lawyer and an accountant who has worked on Capitol Hill for more than two decades, according to Seattle Times Washington correspondent Kyung M. Song. Prater is currently the deputy staff director and chief tax counsel on the Republican staff of the Senate Finance Committee.

He helped steer President George W. Bush's landmark tax-cut package through that committee in 2001 -- across-the-board rollbacks in income -- and estate-tax rates, Song reported.

"The know-how and experience Mark brings to this difficult task is exactly what we agreed must be the top priority for the staff serving all the members of this committee," the statement said.

"He's a serious policy person and a straight shooter who's respected by both sides," said Chuck Marr, director of federal tax policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C.

Nevertheless, some Democrats have complained privately about a Republican being picked as the top staffer, according to The New York Times. Other Democrats saw Prater as a suitable choice.

The Super Committee will have to compromise to make real progress. The decision to look past political affiliations and focus on experience is a clear sign this bipartisan committee is heading in the right direction.

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