WASHINGTON - If there was ever a Congressional committee with the power to rivet the attention of Senators and House members, it's the new Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the "super committee."
The bipartisan, bicameral committee of 12 is the child of last month's debt ceiling deal and has an unusual amount of power to find more than $1.5 trillion in budget savings over the next decade by Thanksgiving. The House and Senate must then approve or reject the entire package without amendments (and in the case of the Senate, with a simple majority vote) by Christmas. If the deal is rejected, automatic, across-the-board cuts worth $1.2 trillion kick in starting in 2013.
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of more than 30 senators, including DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar, asked the super committee to "go big" and reach a $4 trillion deal along the lines of proposals made by last year's Bowles-Simpson Commission and another framework reached by the Senate's so-called "Gang of Six" earlier this year.
Some of the other signers include Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Bill Nelson (D-FL).
At a press conference, the senators said their goal was to provide political cover for the super committee members to go above and beyond their mandated budget cutting goals, but the letter also reflects another new fact of Capitol Hill life: most lawmakers are now forced to lobby this select committee of Senators and House members instead of having a direct voice in affairs themselves.
Klobuchar isn't alone among Minnesota lawmakers writing these kinds of letters to the super committee.
Yesterday, her colleagues, DFL Sen. Al Franken was one of several Senate liberals who penned a letter to all 12 committee members asking them to spare Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from cuts.
In the House, DFL Rep. Keith Ellison co-wrote a letter on behalf of the Progressive Caucus that he leads asking the committee to add job creation to its mandate.
Some members are counting on personal connections to ensure that their voices are heard. DFL Rep. Collin Peterson is concerned that agricultural programs will be hard hit by the super committee because of the "ideological agendas" of some of its members.
But Peterson says agriculture has at least one ally with a seat on the committee, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), who also chairs the Senate Finance Committee.
"He's our guy," Peterson said in an interview, "He's been calling me regularly and we've been strategizing."
So far, Minnesota's four Republicans in the House have been quiet about the super committee, but shortly after the bill creating the committee passed, Rep. John Kline expressed concern about the automatic defense cuts that would take place if the committee doesn't reach a deal.
The open question is whether all of the letters and personal contacts will be enough to change the 12 members' minds by Thanksgiving.