Supercommittee politics

Many people are skeptical about the “supercommittee” that has been given a statutory mandate to solve the nation’s grim fiscal outlook.

Inside and outside the Washington Beltway, it is noted that recommendations from prior commissions on the debt and deficits have failed to become law. 

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That is true, but the supercommittee is different. And the politics surrounding it are fascinating. An impasse will trigger cuts automatically to affect healthcare providers and the Pentagon, among others.

So there is a strong incentive for lawmakers to strike the “grand bargain” that eluded President Obama and GOP leaders in Congress last month. 

Yet there are daunting obstacles.

One is the make-up of the supercommittee. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will each select three lawmakers for the panel. 

It is highly likely that all 12 chosen will be loyal to their party, hampering the chances of a bipartisan deal.

It’s hard to see how Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) could agree to a massive deficit-reduction plan. Could Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)? Unlikely, especially with the parties bickering over what the supercommittee can and can’t do, especially on the perennially and rightly contentious issue of tax hikes.

Leaders must make their appointments to the supercommittee by Aug. 16. Reid went first on Tuesday by naming Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Kerry. Boehner is expected to announce his selections in the coming days.

The recent move by Standard & Poor’s to downgrade America’s credit rating, and the corresponding tumble in the stock market, has put pressure on Congress to act.

Under the parameters of the new law that Obama signed, the supercommittee must vote on its findings by Nov. 23. Lawmakers then have a month to review it, and vote on the debt-reduction provisions by Dec. 23. The bill cannot be amended and is not subject to a filibuster.

Interestingly, the White House will not be at the table. The only way the administration will get a vote on the proposal is if Vice President Biden is called on to cast a tie-breaking vote should the Senate split 50-50. Obama does have the right to veto the bill. 

But by and large, the ball is in the hands of a very unpopular entity. A recent poll by The New York Times and CBS found that disapproval of Congress is at an all-time high. That makes incumbents from both parties very nervous about losing their jobs, and fear is a great motivator.