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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