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 ReidHarry ReidDemocrats local party problem Trump flirts with Dems for Cabinet Lawmakers eye early exit from Washington MORE (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump flirts with Dems for Cabinet Lawmakers eye early exit from Washington Confirm Scott Palk for the Western District of Oklahoma MORE (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbying World 'Ready for Michelle' PACs urge 2020 run News Flash: Trump was never going to lock Clinton up 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 RyanNearly 600 VA dental patients may have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis Republicans raise red flags about ObamaCare repeal strategy Overnight Healthcare: GOP in talks about helping insurers after ObamaCare repeal MORE (R-Wis.) and Sen. John KerryJohn KerryIran’s nuclear deal just the tip of the iceberg for Trump Trump needs to stand firm on immigration, 'religious-test' insticts Budowsky: Ellison, Kerry to DNC? MORE (D-Mass.) could agree to a massive deficit-reduction plan. Could Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchMnuchin's former bank comes under scrutiny Trump’s economic team taking shape Huntsman considering run for Senate in 2018 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 MurrayOvernight Finance: Trump takes victory lap at Carrier plant | House passes 'too big to fail' revamp | Trump econ team takes shape Senate Dems: Force Cabinet nominees to release tax returns Dems press Trump to keep Obama overtime rule MORE (D-Wash.), Max BaucusMax BaucusThe mysterious sealed opioid report fuels speculation Lobbying World Even Steven: How would a 50-50 Senate operate? MORE (D-Mont.) and Kerry. BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbying World 'Ready for Michelle' PACs urge 2020 run News Flash: Trump was never going to lock Clinton up 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.