• The super committee: “A bridge too far”

    On the Health Affairs blog, James Capretta might as well have read my mind on the super committee:

    In theory at least, it had immense and unprecedented power.  If the select committee had been able to produce a consensus plan on deficit reduction, that legislation would have been guaranteed an up or down vote in the House and Senate — with no amendments allowed from the other duly elected members of either body.  No corner of the federal budget was beyond its potential reach.  It had the power to change tax laws, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and every other program too.  And once the committee settled on a deficit-cutting plan, the super committee’s recommendations would have been rushed to the House and Senate floors for votes, with just one month separating the deadline for committee action from the final votes in Congress.  That would have made it very difficult for opponents of the plan to get organized and stop it. In sum, the super committee was twelve members with the power to literally rewrite U.S. fiscal policy from top to bottom  — all in one piece of highly privileged legislation.

    All that was needed to unlock this unusual concentration of power was seven votes.  The debt ceiling legislation which created the super committee stipulated that seven of the twelve committee members had to agree to a deficit reduction plan before it could be “fast-tracked” in the House and Senate.  It further stipulated that the twelve super committee members would be appointed by the respective House and Senate party leaders (with three appointments coming from each).  This meant that the committee would have six Democrats and six Republican members, and that the seven-vote requirement would preclude the committee from advancing any proposal that did not have some level of bipartisan support behind it.

    Of course, in the end, that proved to be a bridge too far.

    This is an astonishing fact about America today. Not one in six Democrats or one in six Republicans is willing to cross the party line even when a fast-track, no filibuster opportunity to remake any aspect of American domestic policy is dangled in front of them. I know, I know, passing bipartisan legislation is really not why most members of Congress are in Washington. If it were otherwise, then the outcome would reflect it.

    It’d just be nice to think just one in 12 of them was willing to do something that is now considered incredibly brave. It’d be nice to believe that just one of them could be a little generous with the degree of flexibility of their position. You know what? If it were so, I’d count that as something to be thankful for. The bar is very low and the stakes are very high. Still nobody will step over it. Moreover, I knew none of them would.

    Sorry to leave you with such a dreary message the day before one of my favorite holidays. Still, I wish you and yours a happy and safe Thanksgiving. Maybe the moral of the story is this: Be a little generous tomorrow. Try not to irritate your in-laws.

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    • It is amazing to learn that only one person could have broken the logjam. It seems to me that the real problem was taxes. Republicans would not raise taxes and Democrats would not agree to any cuts without at least some new taxes.
      Ironically, the fallback law will restore the Bush tax cuts to their old rates. This is a good thing and will do a lot to help the budget. It will also cut defense by 10% (a good thing since there is so much waste in “defense”). Of course, a lot of other bad stuff will happen to keep the economy crippled but I think the Republicans want to do that and hope they can take over next year.
      We’ll see what next Thanksgiving brings.

      • I’m somewhat surprised that a Democratic legislator didn’t break ranks. Unsurprised that a Republican legislator did not. If you are surprised by this, I suspect you haven’t been paying attention for a couple of years.

        Personally, I am thankful that the best policy option (nothing) happened. Why exactly many self styled policy “experts” consider that dreary and a reason not to be thankful, I will never understand.

    • Austin,

      Long time fan and reader of TIE. I appreciate most of what you, Aaron, and Don write.

      But I am really disappointed with your claim that not one dem would cross over … you know better, as to how even the starting point of the discussion was so right of center of the 1950s or 80s, and how the whole thing was setup to fail from the outset because of the fact it had 6 right wingers who had signed the “Norquist” pledge (plus 6 mostly blue-doggy, despicable democratic members who were willing to sign away the well being of a lot of poor to “reach a compromise” when no one talks about returning, first, to the 2000 level tax scheme).

      Perhaps you have been guilty of reading too much Andrew Sullivan and his ilk. I know I read Sullivan’s blog myself, mainly for its variety of reportage but really he’s been a champion of “deficit reduction by further cuts (and revenue increases)” knowing fully well it won’t affect his rich ass. The equivalence between the 6 D and R members probably is in how despicable they all are but really in terms of reaching out, there is not even anything close to equivalence.

    • It’s way out of my normal interest area but I never understood the discussions that said tthe SC doing nothing was bad nor do I understand the above comment by AG: Aren’t you guys all hung up on process (7/12) and forgetting that inaction was a viable option.

      — Doesn’t the SC’s inaction provide the “2000 level tax scheme,” the Clinton/Gore nirvana the left wing longs for?
      — Doesn’t the SC’s inaction give the left wing the Code-Pink-level defense department cuts you have been demanding
      — Doesn’t the SC’s inaction protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as millions in the SEIU, AARP, Seniors for Higher Taxes and Welfare, etc. marched for
      — Doesn’t the SC’s inaction cut Medicare payments to providers like Coburn and Barasso drastically?

      It sunds like the left gets everything it said it wanted.

      And as a fiscal conservative, I’m happy too. I get discretionary federal spending pretty much frozen at pre-stimulus levels, higher revenues to decrease the deficit, the accelerated demise of SS, Medicaid and Medicare as we know it (so we can do the right thing the next time), and probably finally get reasonable interest rates and avoid another economic bubble (although the Fed keeps coming up with ways to prop up Wall St. that us mere mortals cannot predict).

      Am I missing something or isn’t this a win/win?