The not-so-super committee

In news that should surprise absolutely no one, it appears the Murray/Hensarling super-committee isn’t even close to reaching any kind of deal.

After weeks of secret meetings, the 12-member deficit-cutting panel established under last summer’s budget and debt deal appears no closer to a breakthrough than when talks began last month.

While the panel members themselves aren’t doing much talking, other lawmakers, aides and lobbyists closely tracking the so-called “supercommittee” are increasingly skeptical, even pessimistic, that the panel will be able to meet its assigned goal of at least $1.2 trillion in deficit savings over the next 10 years.

Remember all of those predictions that said the super-committee would fail because Republicans would never go for a compromise that included tax increases on the wealthy? Well, as it turns out, the super-committee is failing because Republicans refuse to consider a compromise that includes tax increases on the wealthy. Try not to be surprised.

Jonathan Bernstein makes the case that a deal could, in theory, come together, and that these preliminary reports of failure may not reflect what’s still possible. Perhaps. But so long as GOP leaders refuse to even consider the possibility of additional tax revenue, it’s hard to imagine these negotiations producing anything meaningful.

All of this offers me an excuse to mention a recent report from Ryan Grim who noted what happens if/when the super-committee comes up short. The fear, of course, is that the “trigger” mechanism would kick in and force a variety of painful cuts policymakers in both parties would like to avoid. The “trigger,” however, wouldn’t get pulled right away, and wouldn’t have to be pulled at all.

The supposed across-the-board cuts aren’t slated to go into effect until January 1, 2013. Put more simply: They might not ever go into effect.

The automatic cuts — known as sequestration — are often discussed in Washington as if they’re certain, an inevitability that Congress won’t be able to prevent. But on the same day those cuts would go into effect, the Bush tax rates, which President Obama extended for two years, are set to expire, leading to an “automatic” tax hike that is treated in Washington as anything but inevitable…. A lame duck Congress would have two months after the 2012 election to stave off the expiration of both that tax policy and the super committee’s “automatic” cuts.

The point of the super-committee was to create a dynamic in which both sides would be eager reach an agreement to avoid dire consequences. But given the circumstances, failure remains an option.