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A Bipartisan Attack on Democracy

August 18, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The supercommittee on deficit reduction that Congress created in the debt ceiling bill is an absurdly anti-democratic institution. The vast majority of Americans do not have a representative serving on it, yet it’s responsible for making enormous decisions about the allocation of public resources that will profoundly effect every American for decades to come. Furthermore, Congress gave it special powers that no other member or committee in Congress enjoys. Their proposal will be guaranteed a vote in both chambers of Congress, no amendments, points of order, or motions to reconsider will be allowed, and it will not be susceptible to filibusters in the Senate. That’s right, the Senate couldn’t reform filibuster rules at the beginning of the session because doing so would violate minority rights, but they still managed to change them for the supercommittee.

But that’s not all. The 12 members that have been chosen to serve on the supercommittee appear to have been picked in order to limit electoral accountability as well.

All 6 House members are long-term incumbents with virtual locks on their districts. Not a single one of them is from one of the 114 districts that are considered “competitive” in 2012 by the Cook Political Report. I had a math-genius friend run the numbers for me and he determined that the probability that all six members of the supercommittee come from noncompetitive districts, if selected randomly (i.e.without regard to re-election prospects) is about 15%.

On average, the House members of the supercommittee won re-election in 2010 with 70% of the vote. They beat their challengers, on average, by 42% of the vote. Those are very strong numbers, especially considering the anti-incumbency sentiment that defined the 2010 elections.

On the Senate side, only one of the supercommittee members is up for re-election in 2012, Sen. Jon Kyl [R, AZ], and he’s from a state considered to go “likely Republican” by Cook. Half of them won’t have to face voters agains until 2016 and the other two get to wait until 2014. By then, some other issues and votes will be front and center and the supercommittee will seem like ancient history. If the supercommittee senators were chosen without regard for when they have to campaign for re-election again, the probability that only one of the six would be up in 2012 is about 11%.

As for the rest of the members of Congress who aren’t on the supercommittee, the debt bill set things up so they really don’t have to own their vote. It includes an automatic trigger of draconian cuts to Medicare and national security spending that would take effect if the supercommittee plan does not pass Congress. So everyone will be stuck between a rock and a hard place by design, which means they all get to tell their constituents that they were forced to vote for the lesser of two evils. The real vote, of course, was on the debt bill that set up this whole process (Senate/House). 

It’s an assault on democracy, and both parties and the Administration are complicit. And the reason they’re doing it is that most of the deficit-reduction proposals that garner majority support from the public (raising taxes on the rich, raising the social security contribution cap, closing corporate tax loopholes) are vehemently opposed by the Income Defense Industry that funds their parties and campaigns. On top of that, the one thing just about everyone cares about right now, continual high unemployment, is almost certainly going to be made worse by what the supercommittee does.

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  • textdog 08/18/2011 8:24pm

    this is an awesome post. so pointed.

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  • nancym 08/19/2011 9:59am

    While I do think this whole process is a mess, and I seriously doubt I’ll agree with any package that ever comes out of this committee, I have to disagree a bit with the argument about the non-competitive choices. We’ve seen what the pressure of immediate elections does to members of Congress; it doesn’t make them smarter or more likely to vote their consciences, that’s for sure. In fact, one of the principles of the longer terms of Senators is that very longevity factor that gives them a bit more room to think, in theory at least. If I had even a shred of optimism that Boehner and Reid chose those people because they had less pressure from their constituents, including the TP constituents, I could understand their choices. On the other hand, it could have been simply a pragmatic matter of those reps not needing as much campaigning time!

  • christao408 08/21/2011 3:54am

    One potential advantage of the committee members being in safe districts is that they have a better chance of coming to the center and truly compromising with less risk that it will cost them the election (or nomination) next time around. Perhaps that is wishful thinking on my point, but both parties are going to have to come in from their extreme positions.

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  • MikeLee 03/04/2012 9:53pm

    Very great post! It really pointed out the harm for what supercommittee has done.
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  • MikeSmith1988 03/04/2012 10:01pm

    Very great post! It really pointed out the harm for what supercommittee has done.

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