Supercommittee’s failure disappoints delegation — but for different reasons

Supercommittee co-chair Sen. Patty Murray speaking to reporters.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Supercommittee co-chair Sen. Patty Murray speaking to reporters.

WASHINGTON — Members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation presented an almost unanimous attitude of disappointment after the 12-member deficit reduction “supercommittee” formally announced its failure Monday.

Congress formed the committee in July as a bipartisan, bicameral way to attempt to attack the country’s growing federal deficits. It was tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in savings over 10 years, approving its plan this week and sending it to the full Congress and the president for passage by Christmas. Without such a plan in place, $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts will take affect in 2013, if Congress doesn’t repeal them first.

Committee leadership admitted defeat on Monday, acknowledging that the deep partisan divides that have handcuffed Congress all session proved insurmountable in finding a way to reduce the deficit both parties acknowledge is a major problem.

“Despite our inability to bridge the committee’s significant differences, we end this process united in our belief that the nation’s fiscal crisis must be addressed and that we cannot leave it for the next generation to solve,” the committee’s chairs, Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling and Democrat Sen. Patty Murray, said in a statement. “We remain hopeful that Congress can build on this committee’s work and can find a way to tackle this issue in a way that works for the American people and our economy.”

Minnesota’s cadre of lawmakers all said they were disappointed in the committee’s failure, but their individual responses varied as much as the wide range of policies they hoped to see in a final supercommittee deal. Some blamed the other party; others blamed gridlock in general. A couple Republicans said the automatic spending cuts to the military made them uneasy; a few Democrats said the cuts should go on anyway.

Here’s a rundown the public statements they’ve released since Monday night.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D): “I have heard from countless Minnesotans who want their representatives to come together to reduce the deficit in a balanced way. I urged my colleagues to set aside partisan politics and do what’s right for families, businesses, and the fiscal health of our nation. We have to get this done and I will continue to support sensible efforts to get our fiscal house in order and give businesses the certainty they need in these tough economic times.”

Sen. Al Franken (D): “I don’t think we’re going to be able to solve the country’s budget problems without a balance of spending cuts and new revenues. I think that Democrats put some painful cuts on the table and I’m thoroughly disappointed that Republicans haven’t been willing to meet us halfway. But as I’ve said from the beginning, no deal would be better than a bad deal because there’s an automatic mechanism in place to make budget cuts if there’s no deal, and that mechanism protects Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, programs that are vitally important to Minnesotans.”

Rep. Tim Walz (D): “Washington is broken, and we have to do something about it. Public officials and leaders in this country need to get their act together. Americans are understandably frustrated with the bickering and gridlock that has become a staple of the way Washington operates. It’s unacceptable. We need common sense, bipartisan reform — to restore confidence in honest, open and fair government. I asked the supercommittee to ‘go big’ and find $4 trillion dollars in savings. I am disappointed they did not, but I will continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to reduce our debt. I will also continue fighting to get our economy back on track, get folks back to work and restore transparency and accountability to Washington through proposals like the STOCK Act.”

Rep. John Kline (R): “This summer, I expressed serious concerns about how a joint committee would operate and what proposals they would offer. My concerns were realized today as Americans were reminded, once again, how broken Washington has become.

“In recent weeks it has become abundantly clear that far too few of my colleagues in Washington are interested in forcing the federal government to live within its means. Whether it was refusing to support a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, ignoring the long overdue need for entitlement reform, or failing to provide framework for historic spending cuts, Washington has let down the American people. Too many in Washington think the only way to fix our debt crisis is a $1 trillion job-killing tax increase on American families and small businesses. We cannot exacerbate the jobs crisis by raising taxes and creating further economic uncertainty, and we cannot burden our children and grandchildren with an ever greater mountain of debt.”

Rep. Erik Paulsen (R): “I’m extremely disappointed that the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction was not able to agree on a way to address our spending-driven debt crisis, but the fact of the matter is that Washington is broken. The American people deserve better than this. We need to remember that both parties created this mess; it’s going to take Republicans and Democrats working together to clean it up.”

Rep. Betty McCollum (D): “With families across America making tough choices every day, it appears Republicans in Congress can’t stop playing political games long enough to make some really difficult decisions for the future of the country. The supercommittee’s failure means automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion in domestic and defense spending are now triggered. Even though these will be difficult cuts, I am strongly opposed to Republican proposals to tamper with the sequestration to protect defense contractors and their lobbyists.”

Rep. Keith Ellison (D), with Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva (the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus): “Instead of focusing on jobs, which is the only way to grow our economy and fix the country’s deficit problems, we witnessed Republicans again refusing to compromise and putting their loyalty to lobbyists ahead of the American people. After manufacturing this crisis over the summer, Republicans insisted on protecting tax giveaways for millionaires and billionaires and eliminating the Medicare guarantee. Republicans seem more committed to protecting the one percent than to finding bipartisan solutions that create jobs.

“Last month, the Congressional Progressive Caucus submitted its recommendations to the super committee that would create jobs while protecting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Since the super committee failed to produce a plan, we will introduce our own legislation that reduces the deficit by trillions of dollars and puts America back to work.

“The best way to eliminate the deficit is to get America working again. Americans want leaders who work for all of us, not just the top one percent.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R): “I firmly believe that the solutions to our fiscal mess will not be solved in secret by 12 members of Congress. I opposed the creation of the super committee from the beginning. Though I will continue to support eliminating wasteful government spending of any kind, I am concerned about automatic cuts to defense.”

(Note: Her presidential campaign later released its own, more forceful statement.)

Rep. Chip Cravaack (R): “It was my sincere hope that both sides of the aisle could have reached an agreement for the sake of the American people, and that this kind of political gridlock will not persist at the expense of our children, our men and women in uniform, and our national security.

“This is yet another outrageous failure by Washington to set aside partisan bickering for the well being of our great nation.

“I voted against the Budget Control Act’s establishment of the ‘supercommittee’ because it did nothing to solve our debt crisis and would lead to even more gridlock. My concerns sadly appear to have been justified with the shameless disintegration of this process into nothing but political finger-pointing. We must come together to identify common-sense solutions. I stand ready to work with any of my colleagues in Congress, regardless of party affiliation, to rein in our soaring national debt.”

Devin Henry can be reached at dhenry@minnpost.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/22/2011 - 10:47 am.

    If you’ll remember, this stupid “super committee” idea was the democrats’ idea to get the republicans to go along and vote for the debt ceiling extension.

    Their argument went “If you allow us to raise the debt ceiling to $15 trillion, we promise to find $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years and we’ll have a bi-partisan committee to get it done.”

    As most of us predicted, they reneged on this promise like all the others they’ve made in the past to cut spending. Which is why we can’t trust them ever again.

  2. Submitted by Jim Roth on 11/22/2011 - 11:49 am.

    Okay, Dennis, let’s just continue the “blame game” that got us here in the first place. How about some good old fashioned compromise?

  3. Submitted by James Hamilton on 11/22/2011 - 11:52 am.

    The federal government spends money in a number of different ways: directly, through purchases and distribution of cash and goods, and indirectly, through tax subsidies, variously known as credits, deductions, exemptions, etc.

    Virtually all of us receive some form of government largesse, whether we are in the top or bottom 1% or somewhere in the vast middle. Take a look at your last tax return and chances are you’ll see your payouts there: personal deductions, childcare deductions, home mortgage interest deductions (including second homes), and the plethora of more exotic credits, offsets, allowances, etc.

    The direct expenditures are the most visible and, therefore, most open to criticism and most likely to be targered for reductions. Many of the indirect expenditures are invisible to the public at large.

    Those prone to self-abuse can read a 63 page Senate report on tax expenditures for 2010-2014 here:

    http://www.jct.gov/publications.html?func=startdown&id=3718

    From that report:

    “Tax expenditures are defined under the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 (the “Budget Act”) as “revenue losses attributable to provisions of the Federal tax laws which allow a special exclusion, exemption, or deduction from gross income or which provide a special credit, a preferential rate of tax, or a deferral of tax liability.”4 Thus, tax expenditures include any reductions in income tax liabilities that result from special tax provisions or regulations that provide tax benefits to particular taxpayers.

    Special income tax provisions are referred to as tax expenditures because they may be considered to be analogous to direct outlay programs, and the two can be considered as alternative means of accomplishing similar budget policy objectives. Tax expenditures are similar to those direct spending programs that are available as entitlements to those who meet the statutory criteria established for the programs.”

    The report contains tables showing the distribution of some of these expenditures, by income level. It’s worth noting that 4.7 million of the 157 million 2009 returns reflectd incomes of more than $200,000 and that they accounted for 10% of the total home mortgage interest deductions taken that year. ($3.4 billion of $34.6 billion). In other words, 3% of those filing returns received 10% of this tax expenditure. That’s not to say that other income levels didn’t receive substantial sums. Many credits disappear at or before the $200,000 level.

    Right now, there appears to be a consensus that we, as a nation, spend too much. Maybe. Clearly, we’re spending more than we take in, for a variety of reasons and in all the ways I’ve mentioned.

    If we believe that our best course is to reduce government spending, then it is rational to consider all forms of spending, direct and indirect. It is not rationale, in my view, to limit the conversation to direct spending, particularly when tax expenditures account for such a large percentage of our spending.

    Reducing spending by eliminating or modifying tax expenditures (reducing tax breaks, whether corporate or individual) increases revenue but is not, in my view, a tax increase. Tax expenditures are, after all, simply government funded programs intended to foster various special interests.

  4. Submitted by James Hamilton on 11/22/2011 - 11:59 am.

    @#1: There’s plenty of blame to spread around here. Only complete incompetents and/or politicians* couldn’t figure out a way to take $120 billion a year (3.5%) out of the federal budget. See my windy remarks on tax expenditures, for a start.

    *Redundant? In some cases, yes.

  5. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/23/2011 - 06:52 am.

    There is an election in 2012, The whole House and a third of the Senate. And one other…

  6. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/23/2011 - 07:42 am.

    Tax expenditures is government spending by another name. They are such low hanging fruit. But the rub as Mr. Hamilton points out is they affect such a broad range of constituencies.

  7. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/23/2011 - 09:57 am.

    The deficit and the “supercommittee” have been such a waste of time and a distraction. The deficit is not the problem. The US has one of the lowest deficits as a percentage of GDP in the world. The problem is the economy which was shocked to a stand still by the profligacy of the financial services and insurance industries. These two continue to hold the nation hostage by sitting on the money they took from the bailouts, raking in profits and paying obscene salaries. Get the economy growing, stop the childishness about not raising taxes and the deficit will take care of itself.

  8. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/23/2011 - 02:34 pm.

    “The deficit is not the problem. The US has one of the lowest deficits as a percentage of GDP in the world.”

    Huh?? Obama’s budgets guarantee a trillion dollar budget deficits for as far as the eye can see, adding a trillion dollars annually to the national debt which is almost double what it was when he came into office.

    The national debt is now 70% of GDP, almost double the 37% it’s been for the past 40 years and you don’t think that’s the problem?

    And don’t think rich people are going to bail you out of this. You could confiscate ALL of the wealth of the “top 1%” in this nation and it would pay for the cost of running government for about 4 months.

  9. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/24/2011 - 09:16 am.

    We can’t continue to go on borrowing for tax cuts, or borrowing to subsidize other countries defense, or borrowing in order to prop up the economies of export-orientated countries.

    I think it’s more like Erskine Bowles said…

    “We’re the healthiest horse in the glue factory.”

    A new Congress and new/re-elected Administration will deal with “the facts on the ground” come mid January 2013. At least that’s how I’m planning my personal consumption and savings.

  10. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 11/27/2011 - 07:17 am.

    A Super Committee or Gang-of-Twelve? Well, we’ve seen what that has achieved so far, eh?

    Fewer is not better when the same embedded, self indulgent,partisan policy freaks are merely condensed, but still stubborn and essentially, functionless.

    OCCUPY…outside the hallowed walls is the only active “Super Committee’ which stretches across this nation speaking out its messages. OCCUPY stands outside requesting action.

    OCCUPY reaches beyond the halls of power where petrified partisanship makes a joke of voting and voters…when all that exists of credible policy action is a congress that has achieved nothing in response to the peoples’ cry for justice.

    Call it concentrated apathy now in this gang of twelve; nothing more than another, self-serving congressional committee covering, sitting on its own party ass-ets or whomever they may no longer represent.

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