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How The Supercommittee’s Supervillains Failed

Memo Pad Politics

How The Supercommittee’s Supervillains Failed


A convoluted scheme that would have bypassed Congress — and American democracy — to slash the budgets of popular national programs fizzled out Monday, the “Supercommittee” appointed in the wake of this summer’s debt ceiling fiasco announcing it could not reach agreement on a large package of cuts to the federal deficit.

The mood on Capitol Hill and in financial markets was despondent at the failure of the panel — which consisted of six leading congressional Democrats and six leading congressional Republicans — to hash out a deficit reduction package, but populists from across the ideological spectrum cheered what they saw as a futile attempt at top-down rule by a bankrupt political class.

“You do not balance the budget in a civilized democratic society on the backs of the most vulnerable,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent Democrat from Vermont, who in a radio interview added that this was a good moment for progressives; many on the activist left share his view.

The committee has been disparagingly termed the “Super Congress” or Supercommittee because of its titanic task — finding $1.2 trillion in cuts to federal outlays — and also its unique power: whatever changes it had proposed would have received an up-or-down vote in Congress, making minority obstruction (a factor in derailing George W. Bush’s 2005 Social Security privatization effort) impossible.

“A Super Committee working to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits was an absurd anachronism in the era of Occupy Wall Street — in which the 99% are calling for Wall Street banks and the rich to finally pay their fair share,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group that pressures Democrats in Congress to stay true to their principles. “Good bye and good riddance.”

Unions, wounded by recent efforts to end collective bargaining for public state workers and disappointed at national Democrats’ inability to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, rejoiced at their second bit of (decent) news in recent weeks, the first having been a successful effort to repeal one of those anti-collective bargaining bills in Ohio.

“We think a bad deal would have been much worse than what occurred here,” said Peter Colavito, director of government relations at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the fastest-growing union in the country. “Obviously, Democrats stood up and said, ‘We’re not going to make permanent a series of tax giveaways for millionaires as part of a deal that would cut basic healthcare programs for Americans.’ And that’s a good deal, a good judgment.”

Dems could well find their fortunes improved next fall by a sense among some of the progressive movement’s rank-and-file that their elected officials are not quite as cowardly and craven as they feared.

Then again, on the right, Tea Party Republicans called the Supercommittee’s collapse a vindication of their Washington-Is-Broken anti-government philosophy.

“Conventional wisdom inside the Beltway believed that a grand bargain could be reached if the members were removed from the standard political process,” said Adam Hasner, a Tea Party-backed U.S. Senate Candidate in Florida. “They were wrong. Never underestimate the ability of twelve members of Congress to get absolutely nothing accomplished, outside of raising taxes and growing the government.”

The negotiations were doomed because the Republicans on the panel never wavered from their steadfast refusal to contemplate new taxes, according to those close to the process, but Democrats were also uncharacteristically stubborn: they stood their ground and shied away from cuts to important entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.

In a statement released to the press Monday afternoon, the Supercommittee’s members made official what was already public knowledge: that its almost entirely behind-closed-doors negotiations had stalled repeatedly, that last-minute efforts to salvage the talks had failed, and that the story was once again one of dysfunction in Washington.

“After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline,” read the statement.

Longtime observers of Congress were unfazed.

“It was destined to fail because it had no leverage to remove the major obstacle to an agreement: the GOP’s unwillingness to make taxes a substantial component of a solution to the next decade’s deficit problem,” Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution, said of the Supercommittee.

“The failure is fortunate in one respect: our deficit problem was not worsened by their inaction and might actually be helped over the long run.”

Now the effort to prevent massive across-the-board cuts to funding for everything from army tanks to after-school programs from kicking in over a year from now — the “trigger” in the original deal to raise the debt limit meant to encourage action by the Supercommittee — is sure to ramp up.

“They don’t take effect for a year,” American Enterprise Institute congressional scholar Norm Ornstein said of the cuts. That leaves “a lot of maneuvering time over the next few months, with time for a public backlash.”

What is clear is that if deficit reduction is agreed to in the next 13 months, it will be via recourse to the more standard procedures of Congress, with publicized hearings and debates — if also the risk of the filibuster.

“There was clearly a problem in these closed door discussions where our members and the American public really didn’t know what was on the table and didn’t have a voice in the discussions,” said David Certner, legislative policy director for the AARP. “To the extent that a longer process out of the closed door environment will allow for a more open and transparent debate,” that’s a positive development and makes Congress less likely to trim entitlement programs.

The looming cuts to the Pentagon — they are scheduled to go into effect in January 2013 — remain a potent negotiating tool for Democrats, as military spending is the only kind Republicans would seem to hold dear these days, and the reductions in the trigger were meant to be unpalatable to both sides.

And the Supercommittee’s fall from grace alters the calculus and will at least temporarily jumble the dynamics on Capitol Hill: Congress will have to muster the political will to increase public spending in contrast to what has become its members’ norm of occasionally coalescing around grand bids to slash it.

Follow Political Correspondent Matt Taylor on Twitter @matthewt_ny

Matt Taylor

Matt Taylor is the political correspondent and staff reporter at The National Memo. Previously, he was a staff reporter at The East Hampton Star, where he wrote about politics and the arts. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Michigan in 2010 with a B.A. in political science. You can follow him on Twitter @matthewt_ny

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  1. mahgmar November 22, 2011

    Now that the Super Committee has failed, the talk is about the cost of entitlements ruining our economy. Could you please provide some figures on what that cost is to the federal government. I receive Social Security payments but I paid my “insurance premiums” every month for many years and now I am collecting. Why should I feel guilty about receiving Social Security payments? I wonder what exactly is it costing the government.

  2. Olusola November 22, 2011

    Their failure is not unexpected or surprising. They acted exactly in the way that portrays them as wolves in sheep’s clothing. You cannot assign a cat to keep watch over fried fish, and expect to find the fish whole. The activities of our elites indicate that they are nothing but “Et tu Brute” in Shakespeare‘s, Julius Caesar. They have joined the politicians, and ill guided technocrats to inflict avoidable punishment on the masses. who elected the politicians, who appointed this ignoble committee called, “Super Committee”. I guess the electorate are reaping from what they sow, electing the wrong leaders.

  3. Andy Carson November 22, 2011

    The committee was destined to fail from the beginning because the wrong players were selected to be on it. Had each side, instead, selected the other side’s members, the mix of players would have been individuals who are far more reasonable and amenable to making the necessary compromises.

    Politicians – Shame on the whole lot of you! Voters – We have to own this too; we elected these morons. Perhaps next election we’ll elect less dogmatic leaders who can compromise and work together to make a few of the changes America needs. I can only hope so.

  4. citizen1937 November 22, 2011

    I own a business and when I tell my employees how and what to do to ensure the success of my business they did what they were told to do because I paid their salary. Am I under the wrong impression when I say that we, the U.S. Citizen, pays our representatives in government a salary to represent us? Therefore, they are our employees. If one of my employees does not do the right thing time and time again for my business, then the alternative is to fire that employee on the spot. Well…. Or if an employee does something very wrong to intenionally hurt my company,what action should I take? Well, let’s do something to unsure our and our children’s future. Isn’t it frustrating to have a few people not look out for the many but look out only for their benefit ($$$). It’s frustrating to have the few screw the many without any consequences.

  5. BobW November 22, 2011

    The SuperCommittee has failed because they are politically posturing for the next election and playing to the extremists in their respective party bases – ultra right wing conservative Republicans and ultra left wing liberal Democrats. Let’s show these relatively few extremists and these politicians the consequences of ignoring the wishes of the majority of the American people — vote every member of the SuperCommittee out of office in the next election in which they run. And send them an email or letter letting them know how you feel. Until the people stand up at ballot box and demand change by “throwing the bums out”, no change will happen.
    Members of the Supercommitte were: Republicans Jeb Hensarling, Pat Toomey, Rob Portman, Fred Upton, John Kyl and Dave Camp; and Democrats Patty Murray, John Kerry, Max Baucus, James Clyburn, Xavier Bacerra and Chris Van Hollen.eb Hensarling (R) Texas,

  6. Eric November 22, 2011

    Republican=Corporatist=Eviloution, period. The savings and loan 80’s meltdown was the direct result of their deregulation. The latest worldwide meltdown? Same reason. Reagan said the ketchup packs were ‘vegetables’ and got out of supplying kids with vegetables in school cafeterias…and now the Corporatist party tried to revive the practice by saying pizza is a ‘vegetable’ because it’s got tomato sauce on it…(driven by lobbyists for the pizza/bread industry) When will Americans finally wake up??? This has been going on forever. The purveyors of Eviloution are trying to turn this country over to their masters, the same corporate sociopaths that have continually trashed this country and it’s citizens forever. Social Security is not an ‘entitlement’ nor is Medicare…They are insurance policies we paid for, but the Eviloutionists have tagged them as ‘Socialism?’ These lowest form of life protozoa are rotten to the core, as they have always been, the Grover Norquists, the Ralph Reeds, the Karl Roves, the Tom Delays and the sub human Newts are just the tip of the iceberg. It totally amazes me that over and over again, the citizens of the U.S.A. can be fed lies, believe those lies, and then vote this scum into office, only to get the shaft the minute the power shifts. Our power lies in our numbers, we’re watching a worldwide paradigm shift occur, we don’t have to buy corrupt corporate product or policy, we aren’t the ‘dead peasants’ they think we are, we stopped B.A.’s service charges, we moved money out of corrupt banks to the point that a corrupt lobbying corporation recently approached the banks with a plan to infiltrate the 99% movement and try to disrupt it, find dirt, get people arrested, (especially the leaders) all to the tune of $850,000…this Fox/Rove smelling nasty trick scheme was actually turned down by the gangbankers…the Eviloutionists are getting scared…they haven’t seen anything yet…as more and more of America’s citizens stand up and say ‘enough is enough’ the Eviloutionists will crawl back into the cracks they crawled out of and try and regroup for another attack…in the lull, it’s up to us to get legislation in place that puts traitors in prison, because that’s exactly what these sub human greed based protozoa are…they’ll never change, we have to starve them to death…just as they’ve been trying to do to us…whether it’s ketchup packets, pizza, or handing over Social Security to Wall St. (think where we’d be if the last attempt had passed, duhhh) it’s always the same as it ever was…and we’re the only one’s that have the power to change it.

  7. Peter November 22, 2011

    The final answer will come next year. The next elections will either give the President a supportive congress or not. Until then we will remain gridlocked. I for one hate the fact that someone like Grover Norquist has so much power. Either you support him and his egotistic personal philosophy of ” I made it big in America and don’t need any government support, why can’t you?” or you face losing your election due to a smear campaign of negative advertising. Blackmail.

  8. howardg738 November 22, 2011

    Did the president just cut the deficit by $1.3 Trillion versus the Ryan budget? Are taxes going up at the end of 2012 and cutting another $4 Trillion out of the Republican deficit over the next decade?

    He still needs to somehow get the stupid party to pass a stimoulous bill, before they cost the country a second lost decade.

  9. LindaTift November 22, 2011

    The single thing destroying our economy is the unfettered spending into the military complex and the fact that G.W. Bush took us into two wars without asking the american people to pay as you go. Funny how we are getting away from the real conversation.

  10. AT1 November 22, 2011

    We record and teach history to learn from it.

    The Supercommittee


    1. How was the economy before Bush tax cut ?
    2. The only reason we have higher taxes : The people who spend your tax dollars spend to much. Less spending equals Less Taxes.
    3. We were doing find before the Bush tax cuts so lets go back to what we had, plus cut spending.

    Economy: The management of household or private affairs. Thrifty use of material
    resources. (Taxes in this case )

    K.I.S. S.

    1. Term limits on every office. Two terms or 8 years ( max ).
    2. Pension and/or Retirement: The same system as the general public!

  11. AT1 November 22, 2011

    What is a Budget ?

    An estimate of Income (the amount of money that may be available) and Expenses (a plan for the coordination of expenditures to the amount of Income). Just because you make up a budget that do not give you the right to spend that amount of money. The estimated amount of resources ( Income, Money, Taxes ) may not be there so you will need to adjust your Budget (expenditures).
    If my Income is less than what I expected it to be, I must lower my expenses or I will have a deficit. I cannot just pass it on to my employer and the government should not pass it on to the taxpayers.

    For to long the people we trust to run our business have done a very poor job.

  12. rustacus21 November 22, 2011

    Anyone who voted Conservative & is surprised, save it! U knew coming in what the outcome would be!! Looking at what needs to be cut – 1.3 trillion over 10 years, aligns perfectly w/the near 2 trillion that the tax cuts have cost the American Middle class tax payer over the last 10 years!!! B/c U (Conservative VOTER) don’t spend the necessary time required to measure the the consequences of U’r vote, U continually get shocked by the incompetence & sheer corruption that accompanies your selections at the polls. If U don’t know how to vote, STOP!!!! If U understand the process, vote Liberal/Progressive. They’re the only one’s (i.e., the Clinton record/current Democratic solutions to budgetary woes) w/the understanding & insites necessary to put this foolishness behind us ALL & get the nation back to WORK!!!! By the way, has anybody read “Back To Work”, by Bill Clinton? I just bought it. Expect a critique very soon. But by all means, buy it, read it, LEARN from it…

  13. GotJ November 22, 2011

    I haven’t seen this happen yet but I’m hoping. DON’T RE-ELECT ANYONE!

    Those in power in Washington and other parts of this country need to have the same laws apply to them as to the rest of “us”.

    Did you see the 60 Minutes expose on insider trading by Members of Congress? Apparently this insider trading is NOT illegal for them? At the very least it’s an ethics violation but I think they ALL should be in jail along with MOST Presidents, MOST of the various administrations of these folks AND presidents, Corporations (they’re people, right?), elected and appointed officials, Wall Street Folks, Bankers… Who else?

    Term limits is a GREAT IDEA!

    Apply the SAME laws to our lawmakers!


  14. ayayaboy November 22, 2011

    Believe me USA is in big trouble. Voters made mistakes to vote out those who were working better for the people in 2010. Since John Boehner became speaker, what has Congress achieved for ordinary Americans, rather than “NO” and obstructionism to everything and defending and protecting the rich and cutting services for the most vulnerable? America was about to change for better before 2010 midterm elections. People thought Nancy Pelosy was not good, but what has congress achieved since Tea Party and John Boehner took over power. America elected Obama for change and voted out those who worked with him for a change. Things would get worse if the present party of “NO” will also have White House, then American middle class will be sunk into misery because GOP is loud and clear about their priority to only protect rich and let the poor dig it out by themselves. Beware America, we may be in bigger trouble if GOP wins presidency. That will be power to the rich.

  15. jfscott November 22, 2011

    The Supercommittee Republicans, along with the Tea Party, want America to fail so they can blame it on Obama. No compromise, burn the bridges! It’s fascinating that this was the attitude of the Bolsheviks before they took power: they didn’t want their country to succeed. Both new right and very old radical left take pleasure in disaster, because they believe/d that the people would rise up and throw the old order out. I hope the American public knows who to blame and will throw out all the intransigent Republicans. the Democrats on the Supercommittee, from what we hear from progressive websites, were offering compromise that the left of the party didn’t want to consider, but they made it contingent on the Republicans giving on new taxes, especially for the rich.

  16. rustacus21 November 23, 2011

    Deb Stabenow just sponsored a bill to prohibit insider trading, but my question is, whoever came up w/such a thing, if it’s illegal for the avg. joe/josie? What kinda s%#t is this? “GotJ” is dead wrong!!! If our “REPRESENTATIVES” don’t do what we order them, we can RECALL them!!!! Y isn’t anyone talking about this? What are we afraid of? WE the people, own this! Where are the PATRIOTS?!?!? Not the whinners & crybabies, but the 1’s who show up at rally’s. Inspire their friends & even strangers to get smart on issues & vote Progressive/Liberal? Conservatives & insider trading. Conservatives & pension acct theft. Conservatives & promotion of Middle-Class joblessness. Conservatives & anti-government. We’re the government. Let me say it AGAIN – Conservatives & ANTI-GOVERNMENT!!! Do U understand what “THAT” MEANS??????????

  17. Hankk November 23, 2011

    Opps I meant supper,or not. LOL 29 year we’ve let the media get away with out asking the republican party SHOW US THE JOBS. Republicans have told us “give the wealthy and corporations huge tax breaks and they will create jobs and keep the economy strong it’ll trickle down.” The problem we have is they are still telling us the same thing and the media is still letting them.

    Lets start shouting SHOW US THE JOBS, lets start calling, writing the congress, TV Stations, News Papers, ETC and saying SHOW US THE JOBS, NO MORE SWIFT BOAT LIES, SHOW US THE JOBS.


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