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Supercommittee to Admit Failure

November 21, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

There was never any reason to think that giving and inordinate amount of power to a subset of Congress split between the two parties would somehow solve the partisan dispute over whether or not to raise taxes. So it’s not surprising to read that with just a few days left before their deadline, discussions have turned to how to announce their failure:

The congressional “supercommittee” stumbled its way toward failure Sunday, with final staff-level discussions focusing mostly on how the panel should publicly admit that lawmakers could not meet their mandate of shaving $1.2 trillion from the federal debt.

Rather than making a final effort at compromise, members of the special deficit-reduction committee spent their final hours casting blame and pointing fingers, bracing for the reaction from financial markets that are already jittery over the European debt crisis.

Under the debt ceiling bill that created the supercommittee, failure is supposed to trigger $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, with half of the cuts hitting defense programs. But remember, nobody in Congress ever expected the supercommittee to actually affect the budget — it was created to provide cover for Congress to pass a debt ceiling increase — so there’s no reason to really think that the trigger will take effect either. AP:

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., say they are writing legislation to prevent what they say would be devastating cuts to the military. House Republicans are exploring a similar move. Democrats maintain they won’t let domestic programs be the sole source of savings.

In the face of those efforts, President Barack Obama has told the debt panel’s co-chairmen that he “will not accept any measure that attempts to turn off the automatic cut trigger,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters last week. The leaders of both parties in the House and Senate have expressed similar sentiments — seemingly making any attempt to restore the money futile.

“Yes, I would feel bound by it,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said recently of the automatic cuts. “It was part of the agreement.”

But that doesn’t mean rank-and-file lawmakers won’t try to block the cuts, or that viewpoints might not change if the right deal is offered — especially in the hothouse atmosphere of next year’s presidential and congressional campaign or its aftermath.

The trigger is scheduled to go into effect in January of 2013, right around the time that the Bush tax cuts are set to expire. Sometime around then Congress is going to have to pass new legislation to raise the debt ceiling. I would be surprised if we don’t see another grand bargain that involves erasing much of the trigger.

Pictured above is Supercommittee Co-Chair Sen. Patty Murray [D, WA]

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