Well, it's official. The Super Committee has folded up its tent without reaching a budget deal. That pulls the trigger on a bunch of spending cuts that were supposed to be so draconian that we could count on the Super Committee to keep them from happening. Now right-thinking people from across the political spectrum are supposed to be suitably appalled and getting on with the business of allocating blame for this sorry state of affairs between the parties. If you ask me, that enterprise is not only tiresome, but pointless.
Maybe there's something wrong with me, but I was always more appalled by the idea that the representative branches of government would delegate core governmental functions to special committees in the first place. Budgeting, after all, is the most basic governmental function there is inasmuch as it's the precondition of the government doing anything at all. That's why it's supposed to be performed subject to decision-making procedures that have been painstakingly developed over time to produce serviceable decisions that enjoy political legitimacy. Otherwise, they're so lacking in finality that we have to keep making them over and over again.
I'm willing to contemplate emergency conditions presenting us with unforeseeable and non-recurring demands on the treasury under which such institutional improvisation is excusable. But now we're addressing budgetary challenges that are not only perfectly foreseeable, but long foreseen. The idea that we can make momentous public decisions about our fiscal future through ad hoc methods designed to insulate the decision-makers from democratic accountability, and then expect people with inconsistent budgetary priorities to honor them indefinitely, could only have been dreamed up by people who've never given a thought to what makes a public decision politically legitimate.
Suppose the Super Committee had been able to reach a deal that cut the deficit through some combination of spending cuts and tax increases and even gotten it ratified by the full congress before it was signed into law by the president. Is there any reason to expect that, knowing its institutional pedigree, future presidents or congresses, or even this president and congress in six-month's time, would continue to honor its terms? If you think there is, how do you explain the fact that influential congressman are already talking about undoing the budgetary triggers that were supposed to hold the feet of the members of this Super Committee to the fire? Why should the next ad hoc decision be any more authoritative than the last one?
The fact that these jokers delegated their solemn governing responsibilities to a special committee already showed that we desperately need another election to reshuffle the deck. The cure for democratic indecision isn't more bobbing and weaving on the part of politicians running for cover, it's more democracy. It's time we got on with it.