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Debt commission can learn from past panels

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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Today we know nine of the 12 members of a Congressional committee looking for $1.5 trillion in spending cuts. It includes Senators John Kerry and John Kyl. But will this committee be able to make those tough choices? We can draw some parallels with another Congressionally-established commission put in place to recommend controversial military base closures. Former Congressman James Bilbray served on the Base Realignment and Closure Commission and is with us now. Congressman, welcome.

JAMES BILBRAY: Well, thank you for having me.

CHIOTAKIS: I know Congress is naming members of this debt super commission this week — do actual names and people matter — or do you think it’s more about the structure of it?

BILBRAY: The thing to look at is who gets appointed to those seats. If the Democratic side points — most people that are on the far left, you can get an idea where it’s going to go. If you find that there’s a lot of tea party members, it’s going to be very tough, too. On the base closing commission, really we had military people, non-military, but it was really not a real partisan group. This will be a very partisan commission. But, if they get mainstream republicans and mainstream democrats on the committee that can forget the partisan part of it for a while and try to balance and realize we’ve got a serious problem, this could really work.

CHIOTAKIS: Do you think this is sort of Congress punting the ball?

BILBRAY: Well, I think — in some peoples minds, absolutely. When I was in Congress, I always said I was in the state legislature of Nevada, first. Nevada legislature was geared to pass legislation. United States Congress is geared not to pass legislation.

CHIOTAKIS: What lessons do you think the debt super commission should learn from your base closure committee that you were on?

BILBRAY: I think they can look at what we’ve done over the last 30, 40 years on base closing commissions and say hey this can get done. And I think the fact is this was a good idea, I really do. Hopefully, in the time that’s required, they can get something done, so sequestration doesn’t start — when you start having to go across the board with cuts — slicing instead of doing really surgical removals of problems.

CHIOTAKIS: Former Congressman James Bilbray from Nevada. Thank you, sir, for joining us today.

BILBRAY: Well, thank you for having me.

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