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Questioning the Super-ness of the Super Committee

by Josh Hedtke | UCLA

F Posted in: News and Politics, Voices P Posted on: November 19, 2011
headshot josh hedtke Josh Hedtke

Has the economy got you down? Are you looking for a new laugh to pull you out of the daily doldrums of life? Or, would you like to know what twelve members of your nation’s legislature have been doing with their time for the last three months?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then look no further than government’s greatest farce: the Congressional deficit-reduction Super Committee.

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction is a carefully planned panel comprised of twelve fine individuals, six from one side of the aisle and six from the other. The bipartisan nature of this revolutionary group is, well, revolutionary! Just imagine, twelve people from different backgrounds collaborating in an historic congressional room filled with the sweet scent of America. There’s no limit to what this crew can achieve!

Or there is, I suppose. In fact it wouldn’t be farfetched to say that there’s no limit to what the committee can’t do. Ok, enough with the tongue-in-cheek; what I’m trying to say is that the committee isn’t…very effective.

The deficit reduction committee was officially created by the Budget Control Act on August 2, 2011 amid scares of a credit default. The committee’s charge is to (yes, we’ve all heard it) agree on a deficit reduction plan by November 23, otherwise a trigger of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts will go into effect in early 2013.

One would think that three months would be ample time for twelve legislators to come up with something at least close to concrete. But once again I am amazed by Congress. With the “deadline” looming, a multitude of reports have come out of Capitol Hill expressing deadlock and a complete lack of progress within the committee. As of today, it seems doomed to failure.

The Democrats will not entertain cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security or other non-discretionary domestic spending.

Republicans will not let the words “tax” and “increase” coincide in the same sentence.

Republicans don’t want to raise enough revenue, Democrats want to raise too much.

$1.2 trillion dollars is a lot to think about, I’m sure.  I’ll give that some credit.

But so far what I have distilled out of everything I’ve heard is that the committee is basically a group of overpaid politicians whose only capability is to whine about each others’ intransigence and ineptitude. For instance, here are some particularly diverse and insightful comments from the committee battle arena:

John Boehner (R): “There’s been exactly one proposal on the table in the committee, and that proposal came from the six Republican members, House and Senate. There have been discussions among individual members, but it’s very clear to me that there’s never been a Democrat position — not one. Not one time have they coalesced around a plan that will address this issue”(NY Times)

Patty Murray (D): “’the Democrats are in complete agreement’ on a $1.5 trillion deficit reduction plan”(NY Times)

Does it seem like there’s a slight contradiction here? There is. In fact, the only thing the committee has actually agreed on is that they are in disagreement.

But I still think my favorite talking point is from John Boehner:

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” (WSJ).

Wow, what insight. I felt like I was reading Rumi for a second there.

Or perhaps it was:

Lamar Alexander (R): “This is about more than money” (WaPo).

What is it about then? Making the other side look incompetent in hopes of increasing your chances of reelection next year? Or am I missing some subtle philosophical theme about the nature of politics?

What the Super-committee has become, for all intents and purposes, is a war between two sides trying to shift the blame to the other. So let’s see how that war is faring.

A McClatchy-Marist poll released on Friday indicated that if a deal was not reached, 39% of Americans would blame Republicans for the mishap and 27% would blame Democrats. There you go: we’ve got a winner! The Democrats have prevailed as the least likely to be blamed for a waste of three months time and no deficit deal! Finally, something positive comes out of this mess.  Whew.

The idea of twelve members of Congress spending a quarter of the year of focused time on one job and not getting it done is disheartening. That is all they are paid to do. They don’t produce anything, they don’t move goods, and they don’t contribute to the GDP (they take away from it). Their only job is to find something to agree on.

And instead of completing that job, they turn to what they know best: transforming the Super Committee into a political spectacle.

So while the Democrats win the percentage war on blame and the Republicans snarl in contempt, the American republic loses. Nothing new there.

Josh Hedtke Josh Hedtke Josh is from San Diego

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