The PBS lead story the other day says it all: “Deficit Super Committee stuck in stalemate as deadline nears”. This alarming report has the public very nervous that real deficit reduction is not going to happen. Harried political leaders (especially Republicans) are pushing their Committee members for a solution. Wall Street feels the angst, and is worried that the market will tank once the deadline passes. And there is much additional wringing of hands over the impending failure.
So, here’s a contrarian view. I hope the Committee does fail…and America will be better off for it.
Starting at the very beginning of this saga, there was doubt that such a Committee was even constitutional. Ron Paul, Texas Republican Congressman noted this early on: “Where does it say (in the Constitution) that we can set up a program like this…then pop something back into the House and Senate and say you have a vote, you can’t take it to a subcommittee or full committee, you can’t negotiate it and you don’t know what’s going on there. So no, that is not what was set up by the Constitution. That was so far removed from what was intended that it almost becomes a silly notion.”
“Silly”, was not the only critique word mentioned describing this idea. “Dumb” was also used by Newt Gingrich in several candidate debates: “I am watching the Super Committee' in Washington with amazement," Gingrich said. "This is the dumbest idea I've seen in a very long lifetime." At any rate, a failure of the Committee would immediately solve the “constitutional” issue, as well as the “silly” and “dumb” ones as well.
A second benefit of failure would be to unlock the grip of Grover Norquist and his bizarre “no new taxes” pledge, now signed by 238 House members and 41 Senators. The Super Committee is made up of 6 House members and 6 from the Senate, equally divided by party. All 6 Republican members have signed the pledge. So, not only is the Committee dysfunctional, it is locked in the grip of an unrealistic and undesirable predisposed commitment that is antithetical to finding a solution to our debt crisis. Virtually all responsible political leaders and economists have agreed that the solution will require a blend of program cuts, and new revenues. If the failure of the Committee shines a light on the dangers of the Norquist pledge, it will have served a vital purpose.
Third, the failure would automatically raise the revenues needed to partially execute a solution to the deficit. That’s because the Bush tax cuts will automatically expire at the end of 2012. This alone has the Republicans in a panic, because they have thus far been able to protect their high income earner friends from paying more. True, all taxes will rise, but if the Democrats then propose a tax cut on the middle class only, the GOP will be hard pressed to reject that. This can only happen if the Committee fails.
Meanwhile, an added benefit to failure for progressives is that cuts in the military will also automatically take place in the 2013 budget. Sixty years ago, Eisenhower cautioned us about the military/industrial complex, and indeed it is among the strongest lobbies in Washington. To find cuts in military spending has been virtually impossible for decades; a failure of the Committee will solve that problem.
Of course, the failure would also mean cuts to entitlement programs. Progressives have long resisted that, but some modest adjustments to these programs are probably inevitable, and there will be time for a new Congress to revisit that possibility. Which brings us to the final point about the benefits of failure. A new Congress.
With Congressional approval ratings now as low as 9%, the failure to the Super Committee could easily be a catalyst for significant change in 2012. It would be the ultimate example of failure to govern. Clearly, this congress is dysfunctional. It is locked into ideological positions that are not good for governing our country. It is operating under the undue influence of extremists on the right in the House, and obstructionists in the Senate. The result is chaos, confusion and inaction. And as it regards the Super Committee, failure might bring needed change, and that would be a good thing for America. Let’s let it happen.