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 ReidChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Republicans are headed for a disappointing end to their year in power Obama's HHS secretary could testify in Menendez trial MORE (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew Boehner‘Lone wolf’ characterization of mass murderers is the epitome of white privilege Pelosi urges Ryan to create select committee on gun violence Ex-congressman Michael Grimm formally announces bid for old seat 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 RyanThe Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Gun proposal picks up GOP support GOP lawmaker Tim Murphy to retire at end of term MORE (R-Wis.) and Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryFor the sake of national security, Trump must honor the Iran deal Bernie Sanders’s 1960s worldview makes bad foreign policy DiCaprio: History will ‘vilify’ Trump for not fighting climate change MORE (D-Mass.) could agree to a massive deficit-reduction plan. Could Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGOP eyes limits on investor tax break Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Overnight Finance: White House requests B for disaster relief | Ex-Equifax chief grilled over stock sales | House panel approves B for border wall | Tax plan puts swing-state Republicans in tough spot 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 MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayChildren’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Overnight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Schumer calls for attaching ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance MORE (D-Wash.), Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusBernie Sanders flexes power on single-payer ObamaCare architect supports single-payer system Trump has yet to travel west as president MORE (D-Mont.) and Kerry. John BoehnerJohn Andrew Boehner‘Lone wolf’ characterization of mass murderers is the epitome of white privilege Pelosi urges Ryan to create select committee on gun violence Ex-congressman Michael Grimm formally announces bid for old seat 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.