Deficit Super-Committee Does Precisely What It Was Supposed To Do – Fail

We now know the Congressional super committee, created as a part of the deficit default crisis compromise to find a bi-partisan agreement on how to cut our national deficit, has failed.

Should we be surprised? No, the committee was always intended to fail.

Despite a clear road map to what the nation requires to get its finances in order, the committee – or, more specifically the Republicans on the committee – chose to ignore that map in the hopes of furthering their political prospects in 2012.

We’ve had ample input on how to go about the job. In each instance, groups formed to come up with a workable solution, have reached similar conclusions only to be ignored by Congress.

First there was the Bowles-Simpson Commission proposed ten-year cuts involving $1.5 trillion in budget cuts (plus the $900 billion already cut in the deal that avoided the debt default) and a similar $2 trillion in revenue increases.

Finally, we all remember the Gang of Six effort in Congress to take advantage of the looming default to fashion a grand bargain that would cut government spending by more than $2.5 trillion along with revenue increases of…you guessed it….$2 trillion.

You’d have to work awfully hard to avoid the pattern presented here.

The two bi-partisan commissions – with no political axe to grind – came up with the need for $2 trillion in revenue increases. Then the bi-partisan Congressional Gang of Six, each participant in that group with much to lose politically also agreed with the two trillion revenue raise.

And yet, despite the judgment of these efforts and the months of study that went into these non-partisan recommendations by some very smart people, the Republicans on the Congressional super committee are having none of it.

It’s not an accident. It’s not an accident. Congress formed the committee as a part of the agreement to resolve the debt default crisis experienced this past August. The concept was that, by forming a bi-partisan group from both Houses of Congress and placing some deep cuts into the deal that would ostensibly be unwelcomed by both sides of the political spectrum as the consequence of the committee not reaching an agreement, something would be worked out.

However, if there had been a true desire to have a positive outcome, the leadership of each party would have chosen the members from the opposition party they wanted to be on the committee. This would have produced a roster of legislators far more likely to compromise than those who participated. Did anyone ever imagine that any of the Republicans on the committee – some of the most firmly conservative members in Congress-were ever going to go along with anything resembling significant increases in revenue?

Still further, there never were any real consequences to failure.

For starters, the cuts to defense are not actually cuts out of the existing budget. Rather, they are actually a reduction in the budgetary increases automatically scheduled to take place. Further, the sequestration process that would trigger the unwanted cuts that result from failure of the super committee are not scheduled to go into effect until January 1, 2013, leaving Congress with thirteen months to get rid of the deficit reduction elements it doesn’t like.

We can, therefore, fully expect that during the lame duck session that will follow the November elections, the large cuts to planned defense increases will be either fully revoked or, at the least, modified dramatically.

And while failure of the deficit committee may also benefit the Democrats, should voters believe that it was the GOP effort to protect the wealthy that doomed the work of the committee, we know that it was the Democrats that made an effort to get something done.

It was, after all, the Democrats who made the original offer to reach a $4 trillion deal that included $1.3 trillion in revenue increases with the remainder coming from cuts in government spending – a proposal that put each and every Democratic politician on the committee in severe danger of ending his or her political career.

A Democrat does not propose over $400 billion in additional Medicare cuts (including cuts to benefits) without expecting the party’s base to go a bit bonkers.

But for the Republican members of the committee, the proposal was a complete non-starter. Anybody surprised?

Since that initial and risky effort by the Democrats, the blue team has gone back to the Republicans time and again, each time offering a new schematic with lower amounts of tax revenue along with off-setting budget cuts.

Nothing doing.

Each time the GOP got an offer, it rejected it as requiring too much in tax increases, continuously mouthing the usual pabulum about the job-killing effects of increasing taxes or making material cuts in the tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy- despite all the economic expertise to the contrary.

Not wishing to be obvious in their role as deficit party poopers, Republicans finally found a revenue raiser with which they could live.

The big “breakthrough” came when Senator Pat Toomey, the Tea Party supported senator from Pennsylvania, proposed $300 billion in new revenue by cleaning up some tax code loopholes and special tax breaks for the rich in exchange for $1.2 trillion in government spending cuts.

It turns out that Toomey’s breakthrough was just another gimmick.

The New York Times editorial page does an excellent job of summing up Toomey’s ‘big idea’

The Republicans on the panel called for ending various tax breaks and loopholes to raise $3.5 trillion over a decade, but more than 90 percent of that would go toward lowering income tax rates, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Cutting those rates would not only make permanent the Bush tax cuts but would actually bring rates below their current levels, particularly at the high end.

Naturally, the Democrats took a pass.

So, now what?

Even if the Committee should find a way to make some kind of a deal, it won’t be a deal worth having. Anyone who believes that finding an additional $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction through some combination of cuts and revenue over the next ten years will bail the country out of its debt problems is just not paying attention.

But this was always the plan. The GOP has obviously decided to let it all ride on next year’s election where it believes it can take the White House and both houses of Congress.

If the Republicans are correct, they made the right call. Once in full control of the government, the GOP can write deficit reduction any way it pleases. So why make a deal when the Republicans stand a chance of instituting deeps cuts in social spending without offering so much as a dollar in new revenue from the pockets of the wealthy?

The question is, will the Democrats be able to communicate to the 99 percent of Americans exactly what will have happened and what it means? Will they be able to make the average American understand that a loss of all the branches of government next November would result in the permanent institution of a government of the rich, for the rich and by the rich- or at least one that will function in this manner for a very long time to come? Will the Democrats be able to make the Tea Party understand that an all GOP government will condemn them to suffer the consequences of austerity along with the rest of us – while the rich continue to get even richer?

While many believe that the corporations and the wealthy already control government, imagine a government where there was no ability for well-meaning Democrats or Republicans to block an unfettered effort to save the nation from a debt catastrophe by placing the burden solely and completely on the backs of those who can least afford it.

If this were to happen, the pressure placed on those who do not possess the wealth of the 1 percent would likely produce the final, crushing blow to what is left of the American middle-class.

Rick Ungar

Rick Ungar is an attorney in Southern California and a frequent writer, speaker and consultant on health care policy and politics. He is a contributing writer at Forbes. Readers can reach him at rickungar [at] gmail [dot] com.