We will hear a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth over the failure of the so-called supercommittee over the next several weeks, in the media and from the Obama campaign most of all, as a symptom of gridlock and partisanship. It’s really nothing of the kind, as I write in my column today for The Week. It’s a failure of responsibility-ducking and blameshifting by Congress, and we should be cheering its failure:
In essence, the super committee structure existed solely to remove responsibility for budgeting decisions from Congress, in an effort to solve only one-tenth of a problem. Tax hikes? Blame the super committee, not Congress. Cuts to domestic programs and defense? Blame the Dirty Dozen, who somehow forced 523 other members of Congress to bend to their will.
So why didn’t this exercise in accountability avoidance work, since everyone had a stake in hiding from these choices? The members of the committee brought their political divisions with them, just as they do on the floor of Congress. In an evenly-divided panel without any blueprint for compromise, that’s a fatal flaw. Instead of working through the normal process of having each chamber of Congress develop its own budget plan and using them to form a compromise in a conference committee — a process that has worked in this country for a very long time — the super committee turned the process on its head and created a conference committee with no plans to compare and combine. It was a forum that allowed for a lot of wasted time on unserious proposals that might not have passed in either chamber, so it’s no surprise that the effort failed entirely.
We have no real reason to mourn the super committee flop. Congress is still in session for the next 14 months before the sequestration cuts take effect. Instead of throwing our hands up in surrender, we should insist that the full Congress do its job and plan a responsible budget. There is also a benefit to this failure; it will be a long time before any Congress can propose another “super committee” to avoid accountability for one of Congress’ basic responsibilities. That will be a better for the long-term political health of the nation than the illusory deficit reduction attempted by this low-wattage star chamber for the last three months.
Besides, we didn’t lose much. The scope of the problem far exceeded the mission of the committee anyway. They were tasked with closing $1.2 trillion of a decade-long deficit that goes well over $9 trillion, which would mean that we’d still have added nearly $8 trillion in debt during that period, bringing the national debt to $23 trillion. The use of phantom war spending as a “cut” made the exercise even more meaningless. This would actually have made the situation worse by allowing Washington to pretend that they were accomplishing something meaningful on deficit reduction while doing nothing at all.
The Kabuki theater aspect of the process didn’t escape the members, either. Politico reports that the supercommittee failure occurred weeks ago, but no one wanted to admit it, and that grandstanding on both sides didn’t help:
The three-month slog that was formally known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reductionfailed because of a politically unpalatable mix of distrust, divided motives and the partisan toxicity in Washington. Its demise was widely lamented as a “missed opportunity” by lawmakers in both parties, but there were clear signs from the very start that it was going to be enormously difficult to find the “sweet spot” for a mega budget deal.
Despite public proclamations of optimism, the panel hadn’t formally met in weeks and some of its members had started to leave town for Thanksgiving this past weekend. …
But meetings of the full 12-member panel soon proved fruitless, quickly devolving into smaller and smaller groups — and smaller and smaller proposals. What began as a $4 trillion “big deal” morphed all the way down to the $643 billion plan that Jackson proposed last Friday.
And with each new media leak, the trust between the GOP and Democratic committee members dwindled.
“None of it was helpful,” said one Democratic aide involved with the talks. “The increasing amount of leaks that came out of the room of 12 is one of the reasons they didn’t meet at all toward the end.”
Jim Pethokoukis wrote on Sunday that the Democrats only really wanted to use the supercommittee as a vehicle for tax hikes anyway:
The U.S. economy faces two screamingly obvious problems: historically slow growth and historically high government spending leading to massive budget deficits. In this way, American is already frighteningly like Greece and Italy.
Yet Democrats used the SuperCommittee to push a trillion-dollar tax hike and block fundamental entitlement reform. As one GOP aide told Politico, “If they were willing to go a little further on entitlements, we’d see what we can do on revenues. That was the way it would have to work. What we found was, they needed a trillion-plus in revenues, and weren’t willing to do anywhere near that on entitlements.”
It’s been an underappreciated fact just how far left Democrats have moved on taxes in recent years. But it should now be blindingly clear. The SuperCommittee Democrats are perfectly happy to let the top tax rate soar to nearly 45 percent in 2013 (including both income taxes and Medicare taxes) on small business, entrepreneurs, and investors. This, even though the exploding eurozone debt crisis threatens to push the U.S. economy from sputter speed to stall.And even if financial contagion doesn’t wash up on our shores, few economists see growth fast enough to substantially reduce unemployment and boost incomes any year soon.
This Congress has 14 more months to work — more than half of its term. Let’s put them back to work using the normal budget processes, which Senate Democrats have not followed for more than two years, and produce real deficit reform instead of imaginary cuts married to big tax hikes. That opportunity is worth at least one cheer.