By Bob Cusack - 11/22/11 01:36 AM EST
The supercommittee’s failure is being viewed widely as a debacle — yet another sign that Washington cannot overcome partisan politics to deal with the nation’s record deficit.
But the stalemate hasn’t been a political nightmare for everyone in Washington. Politically, the deadlocked talks have yielded both winners and losers, from lawmakers who openly rooted against a deal to those who said failure was not an option.
President Obama’s reelection bid. The president has taken a page from Harry Truman’s playbook, running against Congress to help secure a second term. Without a doubt, the debt panel’s flop helps his cause. Obama’s approval ratings are low, but Congress’s are much lower. The fact that Obama was out of the country during the endgame of the supercommittee was no accident. Republicans are already citing the supercommittee’s failure to highlight that, in sharp contrast to his campaign promises, Obama has not changed how Washington operates. In the coming weeks, Obama and congressional Democrats will go on the offensive on extending the payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance, two issues that were expected to be taken off the table by the supercommittee.
Nancy Pelosi. The California Democrat repeatedly rejected claims she wasn’t interested in a major deal. But the minority leader is not disappointed with the panel’s failure, because liberals have dodged major structural changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Pelosi, who had to bite her tongue after the tax deal of 2010 and the debt deal this summer, is now expected to talk a lot about Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) controversial Medicare plan. A grand, bipartisan deal would have largely taken that off the table and decreased the Democrats’ chances of winning back the House in 2012.
Grover Norquist. The anti-tax activist took a lot of arrows this year, including from some in his own party. His clout over the GOP was in question after the Senate voted to end ethanol tax breaks this summer. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called him a “random person.” Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) attacked Norquist on the House floor. Democrats, meanwhile, lambasted him on a daily basis. But GOP leaders didn’t cross him — or his tax pledge that an overwhelming majority of congressional Republicans have signed.
Harry Reid. Liberals were incensed that the Senate majority leader helped cut the debt deal this summer, an agreement that was dubbed a “Satan sandwich” by Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.). But the political winds shifted this fall, with many Democrats willing to accept the sequestration cuts that would come with a supercommittee flop. Reid made it clear to Boehner that Democrats would not cave this time, challenging the Speaker to break from the Norquist pledge. It’s unclear how the supercommittee failure will affect Reid’s chances of remaining majority leader in 2013, but the liberal base is pleased. Republicans note that the formation of the supercommittee was Reid’s idea, but few voters will remember that.
Lobbyists. Election years are typically slow for K Street, though 2012 is looking like it will be an exception to that rule. The defense, healthcare and homeland security industries are targeted for sequestration cuts, though they don’t kick in until 2013. That gives lobbyists a full year to torpedo the reductions (and bill their clients).
AARP. Throughout 2011, major changes to Medicare and Social Security have been on the table. During summer talks with Boehner, Obama embraced raising the eligibility age of Medicare and making changes to Social Security’s consumer price index. Republicans, meanwhile, were looking to means-test the Medicare drug benefit. The supercommittee’s demise makes AARP a clear winner.
The pharmaceutical industry. Democrats have long wanted to give the government enhanced power to negotiate drug prices. And Republicans haven’t forgotten the deal the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America struck with the Obama White House on healthcare reform. PhRMA dodged a bullet.
The agriculture industry. Members on both sides of the aisle were considering farm subsidies as part of a supercommittee deal. The threat was so real that House and Senate Agriculture Committee members huddled for weeks to come up with an offer that was aimed at heading off significant cuts. Ag officials can rest easy, at least for the moment.
The public’s trust of Congress. The approval ratings of Congress are in the single digits, and the supercommittee’s demise won’t help those numbers. Once again, Congress disappoints. Some on Capitol Hill said they were embarrassed by the partisan debt deal negotiations this summer, hoping that the supercommittee would give Congress the chance to redeem itself. That didn’t happen.
The Pentagon/homeland security. Sequestration cuts will target the Defense Department and/or homeland security programs. Republicans say they will aim to head off these cuts, though Democrats have vowed to thwart those efforts.
Mitch McConnell. The Senate minority leader said the supercommittee’s failure was not an option. But it failed. McConnell constantly countered suggestions that the supercommittee (which he always called a joint committee) would fall short, telling reporters on Nov. 1 that the panel “was set up to succeed.” He later said Obama was rooting for the supercommittee to falter. Along that line of thinking, Obama got what he wanted; McConnell didn’t. But McConnell can look at the glass half-full. The Senate map favors the GOP, and many political analysts believe the Kentucky Republican will be the majority leader in 2013.
Buck McKeon. The House Armed Services Committee chairman has launched an aggressive campaign against sequestration cuts to the Pentagon and vowed Monday to introduce legislation blocking them. McKeon (R-Calif.) was considered a leading contender to be on the supercommittee, but was passed over. Earlier this year, McKeon said he was willing to cut taxes over Pentagon cuts, then walked those comments back.
John Kerry. The Massachusetts Democratic senator tried very hard for a deal, which would have triggered memories of Ted Kennedy striking historic, bipartisan agreements. Kerry even worried the left over how far he was willing to go on a grand bargain, but the politics of the panel were too difficult to overcome.
Pat Toomey. The Pennsylvania Senate Republican worked closely with Kerry, and an agreement would have been a defining moment for the former head of the Club for Growth. Now the freshman Toomey goes back to being a rank-and-file member.
John Boehner. The Ohio Republican wanted a deal but was unwilling to violate the principles of the Norquist pledge. Had he done so, some say his Speakership could have been in jeopardy. The conservative base was seeking major reforms to entitlement programs but would have never gone along with the tax hikes Democrats wanted. Boehner is still in good shape to remain Speaker in 2013, as Democrats need more than two dozen seats to win back control of the chamber.
Jeb Hensarling. America is now more familiar with the Texas Republican, the supercommittee co-chairman who will be linked to the panel’s failure. But striking a deal with Democrats could have been crippling to Hensarling, the No. 4-ranked House GOP member, who is eyeing his way up the leadership ladder.