Grover Norquist Was The Super Committee’s Lex Luthor, And Other Stories

Two things if you’re at all surprised that the anything-but-super committee announced that it has been unable to agree on a deficit reduction plan and so is going out of business.

First, you weren’t reading my articles.

On August 4 — two days after the legislation that created the committee was signed into law — I said that it was “set up to fail.”  A week later I posted that the now-obviously-less-than-super committee “will-accomplish-nothing.”  And a number of times over the subsequent three months I argued with everyone who said otherwise that there was no reason to believe that the committee would be able to agree on even a small deficit reduction plan. (Yes, I’m taking a small victory lap here. But, hey, I’m entitled.)

Second, you weren’t reading the tea leaves that were obvious even from before the hardly-super committee was set up that it was bound to fail.  Remember that it was created in the wake and because of four very obvious other deficit reductions failures over just the past year. This included the Bowles-Simpson commission that failed to get enough of its members to sign on to what its co-chairs recommended to move the process forward, the talks led by Vice President Biden that failed when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) walked out, the direct negotiations between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) that stopped when Boehner refused to participate any longer, and the attempt in the Senate to set up a congressional commission that failed when seven Republican co-sponsors of the legislation ended up voting against the bill.

Based on this very recent history alone, why did anyone think this latest attempt had a chance in hell of being successful? Had the economic or political pressures become more encouraging? Had the polls that for so long have shown Americans not wanting the specific spending cuts or revenue increases that would be needed for a substantial deficit reduction effort suddenly changed?

No, and definitely no.  In fact, in retrospect, the idea that 12 elected officials who were appointed by their respective political leadership to protect their party’s position were going to do something different on the deficit from all those who came before them is utterly ludicrous.

Several points important for the future of deficit reduction efforts need to be made as the finger pointing gets underway.

1.  This was the budget version of a BRAC commission some have been insisting was needed to reduce the deficit…and it failed.

For years I have been asked why we don’t just set up a budget commission with rules like the base realignment and closure commissions of the past that have always been taken as the model for a successful commission.  For the record, we had that here and it didn’t work.  Had the hardly-super committee actually recommended a deficit reduction plan, it would have used a BRAC-like process: the bill could not have been amended by Congress and would have been considered in both Houses on a simple up-or-down vote.  No filibusters allowed.

BRAC was created to do something very different from the super committee: it was designed to determine which military facilities should be closed after Congress decided that some weren’t needed. By contrast, the super committee had to do the equivalent of determining whether any bases should be closed at all.  That was a far more open-ended and considerably more difficult task than anything any BRAC was ever asked to do.

2.  I’m willing the bet the committee wishes it had never been named “super.”

All the nickname did was raise expectations about what the committee could and would do.  At various points over the past three months it supposedly was going to reduce the deficit, stimulate the economy, reform the tax code, extend expiring tax provisions, extend the payroll tax cut, etc. because it was “super” and could do anything in a single bound far faster than those of mortal men (and women).  As I posted back in September, this was a super committee and not a super hero and it was always absurd to think that it could do all of those things when any one of them by themselves would have been close to impossible.

3.  Grover Norquist was the super committee’s Lex Luthor.

All the reports that committee Republicans were moving away from the no tax increase pledge turned out to be completely incorrect, utterly misleading, and very likely were more wishful thinking than anything else.

4.  “Committee” may have been as inappropriate as “super.”

I’ve obviously had a great deal of fun by referring to the committee as “anything-but-super” and with other similar jibes, but over the past few days it has become increasingly clear that the word “committee” was at least as inappropriate as super.  A number of reports confirmed that the committee was really nothing more than a negotiation between six Democrats and six  Republicans, none of which could assume that they had the ability to make a deal on behalf of his or her full caucus.

5.  2012 will be the year of trying to avoid the sequester.

Attempts to avoid the sequester that will now occur in January 2013 actually will begin in about three weeks when the latest fiscal 2012 continuing resolution will expire.  I expect a number of members to refuse to vote for it unless it reduces or eliminates the military spending part of the across-the-board cut.

It will then continue when the president submits his fiscal 2013 budget in February and when one or both houses considers a budget resolution in the spring.  I expect the gang of six to reconstitute itself in the Senate specifically to come up with an alternate way to reduce the deficit.

I also expect the sequester to become a campaign issue and, therefore, for nothing to be decided until a lame duck session after the election.

[Cross-posted at Capital Gains & Games]