Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Super Committee in Punt Formation

As time runs out for the congressional Super Committee to broker a budget deal, we're hearing this from Jeb Hensarling, speaking for its Republican contingent:
"But 10 days before their deadline, members of the so-called congressional "super committee" created to forge a deficit reduction deal indicated Sunday that they remain hung up on basic issues of tax and entitlement reform that have previously stymied agreement.

"Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the panel's Republican co-chair, told CNN's 'State of the Union' that the only solution possible might be a two-step process in which the bipartisan committee sets a figure for increased tax revenue that congressional committees would then implement through legislation.  
"'There could be a two step process that would hopefully give us pro-growth tax reform,' Hensarling said."
Doesn't the suggestion that there have been only two steps to this process make you giggle?  Let me see if I've got the relevant facts straight:

In the 2010 legislative session, the House and Senate decided that they couldn't be bothered passing budgets that would lay the groundwork for the passage of normal congressional appropriation bills because the Simpson-Bowles Debt Commission was already on the job.  That gave Democrats the excuse they needed to avoid revealing their budgetary priorities to the electorate in advance of the 2010 election.  Call that Punt I.  Punt II came in the spring of 2011 when the Democratic Senate and the White House were too busy to continue with the 2011 budget-setting process because they were negotiating a series of continuing budget resolutions with House Republicans to fund the government through September under the threat of a government shutdown.  The sigh of relief we emitted when a deal was reached taking us to end of the fiscal year was premature, however, because the kicking game was just getting started.

After the threat of a government shutdown subsided, the Senate couldn't be bothered passing a budget in response to the one passed by the House in April  because Democrats and Republicans were already skirmishing over the terms and conditions for raising the debt-ceiling at the beginning of August--if you're still counting, that's Punt III.  Punt IV was launched when Democrats and Republicans agreed to kick the budgetary ball to the bipartisan Super Committee so that it could figure out how to meet the arbitrary budgetary goals that emerged from the August debt-ceiling negotiations.  We were assured at the time that the Super Committee would keep possession of the ball until it finished its work because, if it failed to reach a deal, entitlement and defense cuts would kick in that, taken together, were intolerable to both Democrats and Republicans.

Now we're hearing the only shot that the Super Committee has of reaching another nominal agreement involves kicking the ball back to Senate and House budget and tax committees so that they can figure out how to meet yet another set of negotiated budgetary goals.  By my count, it has now taken five punts to get the budgetary ball back to the people who punted it away in the first place.   Luckily, I still have five fingers on my left hand and ten toes on my feet to call into service when the ball starts bouncing again.

So now we're headed for an election fought over which side is responsible for the government's failure to settle on budgetary priorities rather than over what our budgetary priorities ought to be.  Incredible.

6 comments:

Mean Voter said...

If a Democratic administration and both houses of congress of the same party didn't do anything, and we know a divided congress can't do anything, the only other choice is a Republican president, and Republican Senate and House. That's the only choice left to get anything done on the nation's debt.
If I were running a Republican campaign, I'd point that out early and often.

Anonymous said...

I can see the ad campaign now:

"For the last six years, we've done everything we can to hobble governance. In a time of national crisis, we've blocked just about every initiative to try to turn things around. And the result have been precisely what we planned on: gridlock, recession, and slow decline.

In November, if you hand us all three branches of government, we can have our own way. And in that case, it becomes possible that the gridlock may end.

So vote for us in November.

Solid!

Anonymous said...

Slight variation to above:

"For the last six years, we've done everything we can to hobble governance [BECAUSE WE DON'T AGREE WITH THE DEMOCRATS' VISION OF [INSERT MULTIPLE EXAMPLES.] In a time of national crisis, we've blocked just about every initiative [BECAUSE WE DON'T AGREE WITH THE WAY THE DEMOCRATS WANT] to try to turn things around. And the result have been precisely what we [AND ANYONE COULD HAVE PREDICTED AND] planned on: gridlock, recession, and slow decline.

In November, if you hand us all three branches of government, we can have our own way. And in that case, it becomes possible that the gridlock may end.

So vote for us in November.

Sidney T. said...

I think the point is that divided government doesn't have to work this badly. There are established procedures for reconciling the differences among branches of government controlled by different parties. They worked well enough in the early Reagan and middle Clinton years. We can't know whether they'd work now because they've been cast aside in favor of a succession of ineffectual special commissions and emergency bargaining sessions behind closed doors designed to enable elected politicians to prevent voters from holding elected politicians accountable for the mess we've gotten ourselves into.

Stu said...

I couldn't agree more with Sidney T. But what is the solution? One idea is to throw the rascals out and start fresh, but who's to say gridlock won't occur again.

I'd love to know what Sidney T. thinks about the point by Mean Voter criticizing the Dems - that was a case of undivided government yet it couldn't pass a budget and wouldn't go on record making the difficult choices that needed to be made to reduce the deficit.

The American people must be getting pretty sick of the way this Congress is behaving. We'll see what happens in the next election how it will be addressed.

Anonymous said...

It wasn't exactly a case of divided government: since the Republicans have taken up the tactic of filibustering everything significant from the Dems, it would take a 61+ majority (or more, since the Democrats cover a much wider ideological spectrum than the Republicans) for one to fairly call the government "undivided."

In the eight or so months (from the long-deferred seating of Al Franken to the election of Scott Brown), the Democrats accomplished quite a bit, despite their fractious membership.

Blowing off the 2011 budget was something I consider capital (or capitol, if you prefer) political malpractice.

I live in Orange County--a red county in a blue state--and the mainstream consensus seems to be "the Republicans are dicks, but they stand for something."

The Democrats seem compromised, uncertain, and unwilling to articulate a clearly-understood philosophy.