Clear Fog Blog

Political musings from Warren E. Peterson

Win Win Options for the Super Committee

Posted by Warren Peterson on November 18, 2011

Last August, Congress established a twelve member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction and tasked it to propose a debt reduction package of at least $1.5 trillion over ten years. The Super Committee, as it is called, must complete its work by Thanksgiving 2011 after which Congress is to hold an up or down, no amendments vote on the Committee’s proposal. Failure to reach an agreement will trigger automatic sequestering of $1.2 trillion about half each from defense and domestic spending excluding Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Many observers expect the Super Committee to punt by proposing phantom cuts and tax revisions all pushed out into the latter part of the decade. For example, they could count the money not spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and expiration of the Bush tax cuts toward the $1.5 trillion goal, anything to push the hard choices past the November 2012 elections.

Here are two suggestions on how the Super Committee could declare victory without firing a shot, have its cake and eat it too, wash their hands of the matter, pass the buck, kick the can down the road and still accomplish their assigned goal to cut at least $1.5 trillion over the next ten years.

Suggestion Number 1 – Propose three alternative bills, one designed by the six Republican members of the Super Committee, one offered by the six Democrat members and one implementing the recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform better known as the Simpson-Bowles Commission. Congress would vote on each alternative. Republicans and Democrats could appeal to their base by Democrats killing the Republican proposal in the Democrat controlled Senate and the Republicans doing likewise to the Democrats in the GOP controlled House. For the Simpson-Bowles bill, leadership of both parties could identify members from safe seats and pressure them to vote aye.

Suggestion Number 2 – Assign each department of the government at the Cabinet level a percentage reduction that, all totaled, would generate at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Require the Secretary of each department to implement the spending cuts needed to reach its assigned percentage. This would be no different than the standard sentence Congress frequently includes in legislation, “The Secretary will publish rules and regulations to implement this act.” A promise to address the tax system after the November election could also be included. With this proposal, Congress makes the cuts without any congressional fingerprints on any specific spending reduction. Pass it by voice vote, even better.

I’m not being cynical, well maybe a little, but only recognizing that a deeply divided Congress, especially with the total absence of presidential leadership and a critical election looming, will never agree on meaningful spending and tax reform. They need help, any suggestions?

Sound Politics

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