For all the uproar over the debt ceiling crisis this summer, news on the Congressional Super Committee that was created to resolve the deficit debate has been sparse.
However, as the Nov. 23 deadline for a workable agreement approaches, it has become clear that these Congresspeople were not somehow immune to the fierce partisanship plaguing Washington, and speculation about an agreement (or lack thereof) has started to take off. If the Super Committee is unable to reach a deal — and it seems more and more likely that they won't — the automatic spending cuts that are set to be triggered may actually be the best bipartisan plan to reduce the deficit.
The same problems that dogged President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in July continue to force the deadlock in the Super Committee, and there's nothing to indicate that cooperation is more likely now than it was this summer. Budget negotiations have, since the midterm elections, been seen as a contest between the parties, in which there will be a winner and a loser, never mind how much progress is actually made in reducing the deficit. If the Super Committee can't come up with a deal, rather than buying more time for both parties to try and outlast each other on the same argument they've been having all year (tax hikes versus cuts to entitlement programs), it would force both to give up ground that was otherwise nonnegotiable. Both parties end up losing, but the job still gets done.
The automatic cuts are guaranteed to come half from defense spending and half from other domestic spending, ensuring that both Republicans and Democrats will suffer cuts to programs they consider essential; a true compromise. In fact, Republicans might actually come out on top should the Super Committee fail; declining war spending (such as savings from the troop pullout in Iraq) can be counted towards the $350 billion in defense cuts over the next ten years, reducing the real impact of cuts on the Pentagon. Even if Congress is able to find loopholes such as these, the total dollar amount of spending cuts will still have to meet $1.2 trillion by 2021.
A compromise seems almost impossible with Republicans effectively refusing to agree to any tax hikes and Democrats taking a page from the Republican playbook and standing firm on increasing revenue along with spending cuts. Letting sequestration happen would, in an admittedly cynical sense, be an agreement by the Super Committee. Of course, Congress will still have a year to try and undermine the sequester before they go into effect, but to do so will take an agreement on more legislation, and, if these negotiations are any indication, this would be an extremely difficult process.
Obama needs to stick by his promise to let the triggers go into effect if the Super Committee fails. With just over a week left until the deadline, Congressional leaders cannot afford to kick the can further down the road like Obama and Boehner did on August 2; with next year's elections looming, neither party wants to be blamed for the sacrifices that have to be made, and automatic cuts allow both sides an easy way out while still reducing the deficit.
Photo Credit: sunlightfoundation