We’re one month and counting from the day a 12-member deficit “supercommittee” is scheduled to save Congress from itself. The outlook seems bleak, if you believe reports from inside and outside the committee huddle, but as veterans of dispute deadlines know, there’s plenty of time for things to get better. Or, perhaps, worse.
The supercommittee, comprised of 12 Senate and House members, has until Nov. 23 to produce legislation that reduces the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Problem is, the group is reportedly having difficulty even agreeing on some basic foundations to build on, and members are unproductively sniping at each other over personality, not policy. (Newsflash: committee member and Mass. Sen. John Kerry can be kind of long-winded.)
Adding to the pressure is an unsurprising swarm of lobbyists – nearly 200, according to Politico this week – each of them attempting to preempt any supercommittee proposal that might put a hurt on the bottom line of industries ranging from health care to transportation to education. If the committee manages to overcome such love and stagger from the room with meaningful legislation, it still has to be approved without amendments by Congress.
For now, Republican leaders say that won’t happen for any legislation that includes a tax increase. Democratic leaders say it won’t happen for anything that doesn’t.
So are we. Employers large and small are reluctant to hire workers and rev the economy until they see deficit collaboration that promises a stable future. Standard & Poor’s, which temporarily jarred
government’s credit rating in August, has hinted that a similar move might come again. All of which would likely keep the economy stagnant, experts say, and might nudge us toward a second recession.And those are just the short-term problems, as the Congressional Budget Office reminded us this month when it reported a third straight fiscal year of deficit spending over $1 trillion. That’s unsustainable.
But it’s too early to say the committee is doomed. Congress, in its desperation to kick the can down the road without seeming to, imposed $1 trillion-plus in budget cuts this summer that trigger if the supercommittee is unsuccessful. Those cuts include damage to defense budgets that will have conservatives howling, along with cuts to entitlement programs that will prompt liberal wailing.
That potential pain prompted supercommittee member and U.S. Rep. James Clyburn of
We think still the committee has a blueprint – recommendations from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, otherwise known as Bowles-Simpson, that called for modifications to Social Security along with tax code changes that included eliminating several popular deductions.
That type of framework is what most Americans say they want, which should remind committee members and Congress that an additional sword hangs over their heads. Voters aren’t necessarily choosing which side they agree with in 2012. They’re remembering who chose to send us to – or save us from – ruin.