Failure of The Super Committee

It seems that the “super” committee established by Congress to reduce the deficit has proved more Clark Kent than Superman. It has been unable to reach a compromise. In the absence of a compromise, Congress has authorized a process of “sequestration” under which automatic cuts are imposed. Two things are worth noting on this: the size of the sequestered cuts is nowhere near large enough, though the ‘super’ committee was tasked with deficit reduction only on the same scale. Secondly, that the deficit reduction is to be achieved by spending cuts alone, with no tax increases, is a good thing.

It is arguable that if Congress is ever to achieve deficit reduction on the scale that is actually required to ensure genuine fiscal stability, it may be necessary to include higher taxes as well as cuts. This column is reluctant to accept that argument, though this will depend on the political circumstances that prevail at the time, which cannot presently be known. However, given the tiny scale of the deficit adjustments being discussed, there is no reason why this cannot be achieved entirely with spending cuts.

While $1.2 trillion sounds like a lot, this is over ten years. It amounts to around 3% of the projected federal budget over that period, and the margin of error in making those projections is usually higher than that. While this leaves reasonable people wondering “why can’t they reach a deal on something so small?” it also means that sequestering cuts of this size is hardly a disaster. By the way, the ‘cuts’ are compared with future plans. Federal expenditure is not going to fall. The deficit is not going to fall, let alone the debt. All these things are merely going to rise a little more slowly than we presently anticipate.

That a carefully chosen group of Congressmen could not agree to any bipartisan compromise on such a critical issue does not reflect well on anyone. Republicans were probably more open to compromise than Democrats, proposing revenue enhancing measures such as closing loopholes and deductions. Democrats, by contrast seem generally unwilling to contemplate significant reductions to entitlements, which are the source of the problem. Democrats seem to be insisting that tax rises have to involve totemic increases in tax rates, even though cutting loopholes and reducing rates does more to help the poor.

President Obama could have avoided this whole mess by taking seriously the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson Commission, which he established himself, but has chosen to ignore.

Congress would not even be taking seriously the significant risks of sovereign default if the Republicans, under pressure from the Tea Party, had not forced a compromise from the President and Congressional Democrats using the lever of the need to raise the debt ceiling in the summer.

Democrats and partisan commentators in the media accused the GOP of being irresponsible for forcing this compromise, but it is unlikely that America would even be debating this critical issue if the Tea Party had not forced everyone’s hand. President Obama has shown, by his response to Bowles-Simpson that he does not want to confront these issues at present.

Perhaps the election will change things. Perhaps a new President will show more responsibility. Perhaps a re-elected and term limited President Obama will show some more leadership when he is liberated from worries about re-election.

Article provided by Quentin Langley
Lecturer in PR and Political Communications,
School of Journalism, Cardiff University

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