Do you remember (as unpleasant as it may be) the debt-ceiling fiasco that happened a little more than a month ago? Well in case you need a refresher, the end result called for an immediate $917 billion in spending cuts over the next 10 years. The rest of the proverbial buck was passed onto to a joint congressional committee charged with finding an additional $1.2 – 1.5 trillion in savings. This is important because this newly formed “Super Committee” will potentially be deciding federal spending priorities for the next decade.
I say potentially because there’s a possibility that this Super Committee could turn into a Super Wasteoftime. While the committee had a somewhat productive first meeting this past Thursday (in which they laid out a set of ground rules that seem to offer a bit of transparency), there are already signs of an emerging divide among the panel members, both in terms of the scope and substance of their task. And if they fail to produce a plan (much like when a substantive plan failed to be produced back in August) it will trigger automatic, across-the board spending cuts: 50% from domestic spending and 50% from defense spending. Such blunt, imprecise cuts will cause nothing but frustration and pain for both parties, and for all of us.
Why am I concerned?
Committee members Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT) and John Kerry (D-MA) say the group should go beyond its mandate and find even more than $1.5 trillion in savings. This sentiment is echoed by committee co-chair Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), who wants to push for both tax and entitlement reform…with an added emphasis on entitlements. However, Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ), who was also a member of the Biden deficit talks, says the group should “limit” its sights. Meanwhile, Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) has cautioned his fellow committee members about the complexities of tax reform. And as Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee (the people in charge of setting taxes), Camp's warning is no less than an implicit roadblock for any sort of “Grand Bargain” that combines both spending cuts and increased revenues to cut the deficit.
The Super Committee needs to submit a plan to Congress by November 23. It’s now September 12 and the committee has yet to even set a target for the deficit savings they want to reach.
But surely the threat of automatic, across-the-board cuts that threaten both parties’ sacred cows will prompt them into action?
That's what I thought. You see these automatic cuts, or sequestration, is a sort of “trigger” to get the Super Committee to come up with a plan (and avoid the gridlock that strangled earlier negotiations). But the other day, Sen. John Kyl said if that “trigger” is pulled, “I would do my best to see to it that it never took effect,” in reference to defense cuts. So we have Super Committee members saying they will simply fight sequestration (with lobbyist support to boot) if the group fails to produce to a plan. So what guarantee do we have that the committee will produce a fair and balanced plan if they’re already balking at the consequences of failing to do so?
The Super Committee is meeting on Tuesday to hear testimony from Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf. For now, we'll have to wait and see what this panel can pull off. Will it be deserving of the Super Committee moniker? Or will it end like the last three deficit commissions: going nowhere. You can get up to the minute updates on the Super Committee from the Sunlight Foundation.
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Friends, it has been my utmost pleasure writing this blog series for the past few months, but unfortunately, it's time I was on my way. This will be the last "Ask Kyle" post. I'll be leaving National Priorities Project to return to sleuthing around the halls of academia, hoping to be gainfully employed in a year's time, and in my spare time wandering from town to town solving mysteries. So thank you all for reading, it's been nothing but fun writing for you. But fear not, because you can continue sending your budgetary questions to National Priorities Project at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @natpriorities, or on Facebook. Your questions will be answered!
So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye.