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. 

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 ReidHarry ReidCruz: Precedent exists for keeping Supreme Court short-staffed Warren’s power on the rise Republicans make M investment in Senate races MORE (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellFive takeaways from Florida Senate debate Liberal groups call for delaying cures bill to next year Conservative groups urge against extending energy tax breaks MORE (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRyan has little margin for error in Speaker vote Top Lobbyists 2016: Hired Guns The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (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 RyanPaul RyanRyan has little margin for error in Speaker vote Chaffetz says he'll vote for Trump The Trail 2016: Comeback in the works? MORE (R-Wis.) and Sen. John KerryJohn KerryThe Atlantic Council's questionable relationship with Gabon’s leader State Dept. months late on explaining Clinton aide's missing emails The evidence backs Trump: We have a duty to doubt election results MORE (D-Mass.) could agree to a massive deficit-reduction plan. Could Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchThe holy grail of tax policy GOP lawmakers ask IRS to explain M wasted on unusable email system GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election MORE (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 MurrayPatty MurrayWhat the 'Bernie Sanders wing of the GOP' can teach Congress Senate Dems demand answers from Wells Fargo over treatment of military A fight for new rights MORE (D-Wash.), Max BaucusMax BaucusChina moves to lift ban on US beef Overnight Healthcare: Zika fight stalls government funding talks | Census finds big drop in uninsured | Mental health bill faces wait Glover Park Group now lobbying for Lyft MORE (D-Mont.) and Kerry. BoehnerJohn BoehnerRyan has little margin for error in Speaker vote Top Lobbyists 2016: Hired Guns The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE 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.