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Debt panel member says he'll attend fundraiser, despite controversy

From Joe Johns, CNN
  • Rep. Xavier Becerra was appointed Thursday to the panel tackling the debt crisis
  • That same day, a supporter touted Becerra's post on the panel in an invitation to a fundraiser
  • Becerra says the supporter has apologized, and he still plans to have the event
  • He says he's reached out to other group member and they may meet this month

(CNN) -- A recently appointed member of the so-called "super committee" that will tackle the government's debt crisis said Friday that he still plans to attend a fundraiser, even after a supportive lobbyist touted his post on the panel in an invite to the event.

James Hart, who works for the trade group Investment Company Institute, sent out the controversial invitation Thursday, the same day that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi named Rep. Xavier Becerra to the 12-member deficit reduction panel. In it, Hart hyped the $1,500-per-ticket fundraiser saying, "This will be Mr. Becerra's first event since being named to the commission and may be one of the first for any of the 12 members of the group."

The California Democrat since has faced criticism that he is parlaying his role on the powerful panel to bolster his campaign coffers. But Becerra, while saying he didn't see the e-mail invitation in advance nor did he approve it, said he will not cancel the event after the uproar.

"I will continue to do what I have to do as a member of Congress, so yes, we are going to move forward," Becerra, whose district is in Los Angeles, told CNN. "I don't plan to do anything differently than I've done for the last 19 years as a member of Congress."

Becerra, the vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said that he had talked to Hart and accepted his apology. The Investment Company Institute, for which Hart is political affairs officer, bills itself on its website as "the national association of U.S. investment companies, including mutual funds" and other funds whose members manage $13.1 trillion in total assets.

The fundraiser, which Becerra said was in the works well ahead of his appointment to the debt group, is set for August 31.

The Democrat said he is cognizant of the importance of maintaining the deficit committee's credibility. He felt that "the more disclosure, the better" in giving the public information about representatives' campaign, fundraising and legislative activities.

"If we are as transparent in everything that we do as possible, (and if) there is disclosure of our activities both policy-wise and in campaigns..., I think that gives the American public the shield it needs to make sure that it's avoiding ... having special interests dominate," Becerra said.

He added that he's been trying to reach out the 11 others who have been appointed, by the party leaders in both the House and Senate, to the panel.

"We're supposed to be back in session in the beginning of September, (but) I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't ... get together before then," said Becerra.

The committee will follow up on negotiations that started last year with a bipartisan debt commission appointed by President Barack Obama, then continued in Congress, including work by the so-called Gang of Six senators -- three Democrats and three Republicans. Both the debt commission and the other group recommended comprehensive packages that included tax reform, changes to politically sensitive entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, and spending cuts.

The committee will try to work out $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, which would come in addition to an initial round of already approved spending cuts of more than $900 billion. It is required to complete its work by November 23. Congress then has until December 23 to vote on the proposal, with no amendments permitted.

A simple majority on the panel -- seven of 12 members -- is needed to approve whatever package it comes up with, meaning that it will take a lone member of either party to push something through by voting with the other side. The committee's proposal would then need a simple majority in each chamber of Congress to make it to Obama's desk.

If the committee fails to reach agreement or Congress fails to pass whatever package it recommends, a trigger mechanism will enact further across-the-board cuts in government spending, including for the military.

When asked about the chances of getting an agreement and avoiding triggering the across-the-board cuts, Becerra said, "I think if we all walk in there believing that we leave our egos and preconditions at the door, I don't see any reason we can't."