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The Super Committee: Personnel Is Policy

The parties' choices for super committee membership reflect different strategies to cut the deficit.

by
Peter Roff

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August 18, 2011 - 12:26 am
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Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich may have hit on something in last week’s Iowa debate when he suggested the right move going forward is for Congress to scrap the so-called “super committee” that is supposed to come up with recommendations for an additional $1.5 trillion in spending cuts before President Barack Obama can get his second bite of the debt ceiling apple.

Calling it “about as a dumb an idea as Washington has come up with in my lifetime,” Gingrich said during the GOP debate in Ames, Iowa, that

The idea that 523 senators and congressmen are going to sit around for four months while 12 brilliant people, mostly picked for political reasons, are going to sit in some room and brilliantly come up with a trillion dollars, or force us to choose between gutting our military and accepting a tax increase, is irrational.

“What they ought to do is scrap the committee right now, recognize it’s a dumb idea, go back to regular legislative business, assign every subcommittee the task of finding savings,” Gingrich said. “Do it out in the open through regular legislative order and get rid of this secret phony business.”

There’s a lot of sentiment for his idea. Nonetheless, the committee is going to go forward with its work and there seems little that can be done to stop it.  This is fine with some people who argue that it should at least be given a chance to produce a package of cuts that will make a real impact on the national debt.

Part of the concern about whether or not the committee can achieve its mandate comes from the fact that, by design, it is going to encroach on the prerogatives of every other committee in Congress.

“You’ve got to believe that every major committee is nervous that it’s core work is just going to be snatched away from it if they manage to reach some sort of grand deal,” Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told Politico:

That’s probably true of even Finance and Ways and Means even though their chairs are on the committee. They may be consulted, but they’re not going to be able to shape things the way they normally shape things.

The up or down nature of the vote on the super committee’s final report may ultimately negate those concerns, especially as they are tied to the next increase in the debt ceiling. Members who feel their authority to make decisions about program-specific spending will face enough political pressure that they will almost inevitably be forced to set their personal concerns aside — never mind that they can always go back into the process and address them later in a future budget.

The real problem with the committee seems to be its constitution, which seems designed to produce a deal centering on the lower common denominator.

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