Supercommittee or superhype?

In The New Republic this morning, Timothy Noah argues that the success or failure of the “supercommittee” is much less consequential than the ominous coverage of its efforts suggests.

The bipartisan (and bicameral) committee must agree on some combination of taxes and cuts to reduce the projected deficits by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years or that amount will be automatically cut in ways that both parties will dislike. Most recent coverage of the secretive committee has suggested that they won’t reach a deal (mainly because the Repubs won’t agree to any new taxes and the Dems won’t agree to a cuts-only deal).

Noah implies that they won’t reach a deal but the painful automatic cuts also won’t occur. He goes over the history of previous attempts by one Congress to impose budgetary discipline on future congresses (remember Gramm-Rudman anyone?) and finds they didn’t work largely because the current Congress can’t really bind the next Congress (or future congresses) to anything.

Writes Noah:

“Even the short-term sequestration threat is slight. Should the super committee display empty pockets come November 23, sequestration will begin not in 2011, or even in 2012, but rather in January 2013, two months after an election that will surely alter, one way or another, the power relationship between Democrats and Republicans.”

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/28/2011 - 11:45 am.

    “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”
    various attributions.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/28/2011 - 11:46 am.

    Wasn’t the last budget passed as a law? Doesn’t congress have to pass a new law to circumvent it? Doesn’t Obama have to sigh any new law? In theory cannot Obama impose the budget deal by vetoing any laws that modify it unless congress overrides his veto?

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/28/2011 - 01:01 pm.

    I’m inclined to agree with both Pauls above. For the “supercommittee” to actually accomplish something, there’d have to be substantial agreement within the group, and enough power and discipline among its members and their respective party structures to enforce the committee’s decision, whatever shape it might take, on party members in both houses.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see either one of those as a realistic possibility prior to the election of 2012, or, possibly, ever.

  4. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 10/28/2011 - 02:12 pm.

    I vote for “superhype”. The Supercommittee was created to give the appearance of action while Congress is stuck in neutral.

  5. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/28/2011 - 10:27 pm.

    The problem is only simple if it only has to be solved to satisfy 1 person, not the 12 on the committee, or the 300 million Americans they represent. The questions they need to answer are fundamental, and they are the questions that we have been avoiding for 30-50 years (depending on who’s counting) by raising spending without raising taxes, relying on bursts of wealth creation when we can and debt when we can’t.

    The questions that need to be answered are:
    1. How large should the federal government be?
    2. How large an economic transfer should be made from working people to the elderly? Is the government acting simply to reduce poverty, or to accomplish some other objective through universal entitlements?
    3. How much should individuals be forced to share in the cost of health care for others? How much should an individual have to pay before the government helps pay their health care bills?
    4. What are the things that the federal government does that it doesn’t really need to do? Which programs, subsidies and tax breaks can be eliminated?
    5. Should the United States continue to play the role of global hegemon? Are we prepared to accept the alternative?

    Come to a consensus on those 5 issues, and balancing the budget is a matter of simple math. But that’s the problem, of course. There is a wide disagreement on many of these issues, amongst the 12 committee members, and amongst 300 million Americans.

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/29/2011 - 09:49 am.

    Richard–
    Nice statement of the problem.
    The solution is?

    (obligatory reference to H.L.Mencken).

  7. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/29/2011 - 07:23 pm.

    I’ve acquired investments, a home, and an insurance policy all for their own sake, but everyone of them was also sold with the promise of a reduction in taxes. As much as I enjoy the benefits, I really can’t justify why they should exist.

  8. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 11/01/2011 - 04:11 pm.

    I’ll venture a few answers to Richard’s questions.

    #2 – How large should an economic transfer be made from working people to the elderly? Is the government acting merely to reduce poverty, or to accomplish some other objective through universal entitlements?

    Social Security has reduced poverty among the elderly almost to zero, saving seniors from having to subsist on dog food and families from having to support aged relatives. It contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to every state’s economy every month. It is a major contributor to the common good.

    And far from being just an “entitlement,” it is our insurance against poverty in old age but is there to provide support for surviving spouses and children whose breadwinners die before retirement and to workers who become disabled (one in seven) before retirement.

    #3 How much should individuals be forced to share in the health care costs of others? How much should an individual have to pay before the government helps pay their health care bills?

    The answer is to consider health care a human right rather than an “industry.” Single payer universal health care would save us as a society $400 billion per year while leaving not one person without access to care.

    #5 Should the United States continue to play the role of global hegemon? ARe we prepared to accept the alternative?

    Somehow we came to think that the entire world will explode if we personally do not make it “safe.” The “alternative” would not be something bad but rather a world left free of our interference in other countries’s self-determination and governance, of our meddling in their elections, of our building bases in every country that doesn’t say “go home” when that money could be better spent here on the economic and social betterment of our own citizens. Foreign aid should be provided, but without strings.

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