Commentary Magazine


Was the Supercommittee Built to Fail?

In hindsight, it was doomed from the start. And reading articles like this, you get the sense maybe that was the point:

While many have portrayed the supercommittee as having some sort of automatic axe, other observers haven’t bought the idea. Stan Collender, a Democratic budget expert and consultant to Wall Street and Washington lobbyists, saw through it quickly, writing a report for Qorvis Communications downplaying the likelihood of the automatic cuts. “There is a high probability that the supercommittee won’t be able to agree on a deficit reduction deal and that the across-the-board spending cuts that are supposed to be triggered if that happens will NOT go into effect as scheduled in 2013,” he wrote. “Federal budget agreements have seldom, if ever, gone the distance. Instead, they have always been changed, waived, ignored or abandoned.”

At Powerline blog, John Hinderaker is blasé:

My own view is that there is no reason to take seriously any statute that purports to tell us how money will be spent in 2022; or any time after the coming fiscal year. No Congress can bind future Congresses, and history tells us that such long term spending measures are meaningless. Five or ten years from now, Congress will spend whatever it votes to spend, wherever it votes to spend it, regardless of what the debt ceiling deal says.

Republicans will fight to avert the catastrophic defense cut trigger, as they should. When that happens, Democrats will likely object unless they get some protection from Medicare and other cuts in exchange. But it makes you wonder – if there was always an escape hatch there, what exactly was the point of this whole experiment?

It bought time. It shielded members of Congress from tough votes and tougher decisions. It wasted four months that could have been spent on more productive negotiations. Oh — and it gave “hands-off” Obama a ton of fodder for his reelection bid:

President Barack Obama kept his distance from the talks, choosing instead to emphasize a job creation package that was blocked by Republicans in Congress. Aides believe Obama will be able to use the supercommittee’s failure to paint Republicans as obstructionists during his 2012 re-election campaign.

This is nauseating considering the fact that the president didn’t lift a finger to help reach a deal — but from a political perspective, who can blame him? For months, we’ve heard about how sequestration would be enough incentive to get Congress to reach a budget consensus. Now the public is going to hear that not only did the committee fail, but the triggers don’t even have teeth. Is it any wonder why Congress’ approval rating is at 12 percent?