Monday, November 21, 2011

Super Dud

So many epitaphs, so little time.

Debt panel poised to admit failure
Lawmakers Concede Budget Talks Are Close to Failure
You could even get interactive and take a look at all of the failed plans on one page. 

In the end, Americans don't do well with all-powerful groups that issue ultimatums (ultimata?). They strike us as undemocratic and untrustworthy, and they undermine the limited government ethos on which this country was founded. We're supposed to work together to solve our problems, using our representatives as proxies to fight against the noxious influence of factions and interest groups. Creating a group whose work could not be altered or debated runs so counter to our system of checks and balances, that I'm frankly surprised that nobody brought a suit against it as unconstitutional. Perhaps the lesson is that lobbying money will buy you anything, even a mini Politburo in the bowels of Washington.

The problem now is that Congress if both full of, and influenced by, the types of groups the Founders wanted Congress, and indeed representative government, to protect us from. The Tea Party believes that they are the only ones who are correctly interpreting the Constitution. The Occupy Wall Street movement believes that democracy can only truly be served with income equality, which would require a redivision of the economic pie. Both groups are certain of their orthodoxies. In large part they reflect the ideologies of the parties in Congress, who are beholden to their benefactors to the exclusion of common sense and the common good.

The first sign of problems with the supercommittee came when both sides discussed ways to maneuver around the automatic cuts prescribed in the law. Without the fear of automatic cuts, it became possible, even probable, that the committee would fail. After that came the name-calling and doom-saying. Now comes the finger-pointing.

If anything, the Republicans will bear the brunt of negative public reaction should the committee ultimately fail. Both Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney have called on President Obama to protect cuts to the military. You'll notice that they're not so quick to call for sparing cuts to programs that recession-ravaged Americans need. Also, the Republican's absolute opposition to revenue hikes flies in the face of public opinion, as the chart below from Poll Watch Daily points out.



In fact, their argument flies in the face of history. From this New York Times article: 

In the five fiscal grand bargains of the 1980s and early 1990s, tax increases accounted for an average of 61 cents of every dollar saved. In fact, in President Reagan’s 1982 and 1984 budget-trimming deals, more than 80 percent of deficit reductions came from tax increases. What’s more, the deals passed with majority support from both parties. Mr. Reagan may be remembered as an antitax hero, but he actually raised taxes 11 times over the course of his presidency, all in the name of fiscal responsibility. 

Republicans used to rank deficit reduction ahead of curbing taxes, but now the reverse is true. What changed?

What changed was that the Republicans were slowly taken over by the uncompromising right wing, most of whom took Grover Norquist's no-tax pledge (which many of them broke during George W. Bush's term, but then found religion in 2009, just in time for Obama).

So what will happen now? Not much, it seems, if the committee falls apart. From Newser.com:

There’s a reason Capitol Hill isn’t in panic mode ahead of the supercommittee’s dreaded Nov. 23 deadline: because nothing will actually happen in the now-likely event that the committee fails. Turns out those massive spending cuts that supposedly serve as a sword of Damocles for lawmakers don’t kick in until January 2013, the Washington Post reports, giving lawmakers plenty of time to work out a fix. Of course, they’ll probably wait to actually do so until after the next election. 

The expiration of the Bush tax cuts also kicks in at the start of January 2013, so expect yet another do-or-die legislative scramble then. A deal certainly looks unlikely right now, despite a brief bipartisan meeting last night. Max Baucus was so pessimistic that he became angry and "emotional" as he talked to the Post. “Everybody’s afraid—afraid of losing their job—to move toward the center,” he said. “Compared to the thousands who have given their lives in service to this country, I think it’s tragic and it speaks volumes.”  

Other casualties of the failure would be the expiration of the payroll tax cut, which would hit middle class families with an average hike of about $1,000, and the end of long term unemployment insurance. Tax cuts for the wealthy would not be touched.

This is a failure of leadership, bipartisanship, imagination, creativity, and will. We the people deserve better.

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