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Why Does Bruce Bartlett Want To Give The Anything-But-Super Committee Another Chance?

12 Sep 2012
Posted by Stan Collender

CG&G alum Bruce Bartlett emailed me to say that, rather than cancel the sequester as I recommended in a post yesterday, we should get the band back together and reconstitute the anything-but-super committee to give it another chance to come up with a deficit reduction plan.

Sorry, Bruce...But I just don't see the need to go there yet again.

How many federal budget commissions, special committees, advisory groups, and private negotiations do we need to fail before we admit they don't work? Think about just the past few years: The Biden-Cantor negotiations, the Obama-Boehner summit negotiations, the B-S (that is, Simpson-Bowles) commission, the anything-but-super committee, the gang of six -- fail, fail, fail, fail, fail.

Again? Really?

What about the politics of the current situation is different enough from the last time the anything-but-super committee met and failed that makes anyone think a compromise on taxes and Medicare is more likely? Yes, the sequester that was more than a year away when the committee failed the last time is now only several months from happening. And, yes, the military spending community is far more active now than it was before in opposing at least the Pentagon portion of the sequester.

But a super committee sequel ("The Deficit Strikes Back"?) would have to be given several months and would report after the election during the lame duck session of Congress. Not only would that be a very tight timetable that would be hard to meet, reporting after the election would take away much of the influence the defense spending community would have on the negotiations.

In other words, the sequester would still be the most likely outcome.

And...I don't see how another super committee is going to make the GOP any more likely to compromise. To the contrary, my expectation is that a Romney loss, a failure to take over the Senate or a loss of seats in the House -- any one of which seem plausible at this point -- is going to result in Republicans being less rather than more likely to compromise on budget issues. It's not at all hard to imagine the tea party wing of the party insisting that any of those failures happened because Republicans were not steadfast enough in their opposition to tax increases and not insistent enough on spending cuts.

In other words, the election is far more likely to result in the GOP doubling down on its tax and spending intransigence rather than the kind of kumbaya moment that would be needed for a reconstituted super committee to actually be super.

More importantly, we do NOT

More importantly, we do NOT have a spending problem, we have a taxing problem. When Clinton raised income taxes, this eliminated the on budget deficit. The CBO projected that this, plus the Social Security and Medicare surpluses, was enough to pay off the entire US debt by the time that the Social Security/Medicare trust funds would have to be amortized for beneficiary payments, all without having to raise taxes to pay for the amortization of those trust funds. Like Reagan before him, Bush took those excess payroll tax receipts and gave them “back” as income tax reductions, heavily weighted to the wealthy–who didn’t create those surpluses in the first place. By doing this, Bush guaranteed that income taxes would have to be raised in order to amortize the trust funds. The failure to do so simply permits the 1% to steal the money contributed by workers for their retirement. Everything about not raising taxes or limiting expenses, is about stealing the 99%'s money. The national debt has been caused primarily by income taxes which were reduced far below their historic 12%(+/-1%)of normalized GDP, not by on budget expenses, which have remained at their historic 12%(+/-1%) throughout.

I'm not so sure that basing

I'm not so sure that basing this sort of analysis on guesses about the political behavior of groups is the wisest thing. Group behavior can be trickier than individual behavior, because from the outside, it's often not clear who is driving the dynamic, where the surprises come from and all that stuff. It's easy enough to guess that Paul Ryan would be a problem and he might insist on staying in the committee if it were re-activated.

That the GOP will become more or less tractable after the election seems open to debate, as the difference between your view and Bartlett's shows.

Supercomms are for unpopular medicine, not policy disagreements

Supercommittees can be helpful when both parties are in agreement on the action needed, but avoid taking that action due to its unpopularity. In such a case, the supercommittee provides cover and allows Congress to accept the recommendations of a "wise council of advisors".

If the medicine is unpopular enough, the purpose of the supercommittee is to allow Congress to put off action for the duration of the committee and then to ignore any eventual recommendations.

Where policy disagreements exist, supercommittees are very unlikely to find some political compromise that hasn't already been considered (and rejected) outside the committee.

Yes indeed

Reconvening the supercommittee would be truly stupid.

And if there is a consensus, it's a damaging one, one which may suit a bunch of pundits but which would be incredibly destructive to Americans in general. We don't conceivably want a group which is working to shred our already minimal "safety net" by "cutting entitlements" which, as bmz rightly observes, are NOT the problem.

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