Sunday, November 27, 2011

Congress Fails. Blame The President.

Republicans, some Democrats, the main street media, and a number of pundits have been laying the failure of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction on President Obama.  The JSCDR, inappropriately better known as the super-committee, was created by the Budget Control Act in August 2011 when the debt ceiling was raised by $400Billion.  The JSCDR was tasked with recommending at least $1.5 trillion in additional deficit reduction steps over a 10-year period, and had the options of coming up with the money from: revenue increases, including raising taxes; tax reforms, such as simplifying the tax code and eliminating some tax breaks and loopholes; military spending cuts; and measures to reform and slow the growth of entitlement programs.  In other words, everything was on the table.  Twelve members, six from each party and six from each House of Congress failed to come up with a compromise as mandated by the Budget Control Act, yet it was President Obama’s fault?  
So two questions: (1) Why did the JSCDR fail? and (2) How is it President Obama’s fault?
To start we need to wind the clock back to January, 2010 when the Senate rejected legislation calling for a congressional commission to recommend reductions in the federal deficit.  The 53-46 vote fell seven votes shy of the necessary 60 under an agreement both parties reached.   A group of 37 Democrats and 16 Republicans supported the commission, while 23 Republicans and 23 Democrats opposed it. The vote defeated an amendment by Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) that would have created an 18-member panel to propose spending and reduction policies.  
And with that vote the concept of Congress being able to tackle this long term issue went out the window because they couldn’t even agree to form a committee.  Republican Sens. Sam Brownback (Kan.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), John Ensign (Nev.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), James Inhofe (Okla.) and John McCain (Ariz.) all voted against the bill, despite being co-sponsors. A seventh GOP senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, had co-sponsored the bill and planned to support it but missed the vote for personal reasons.  But the commission was equally doomed by the 23 Democrats who voted against the measure: Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Max Baucus (Mont.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Roland Burris (Ill.), Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Bob Casey Jr (Pa.), Chris Dodd (Conn.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), Paul Kirk (Mass.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Arlen Specter (Pa.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) , Tom Udall (N.M.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.).
Why did the Senate balk?  There are probably a number of reasons.  The Republicans turned against their alleged fiscal mantra simply to put the pressure on President Obama to create his own commission via executive order.  They also balked because they knew any legitimate commission would include revenue increases, an abomination in the eye of their master Grover Norquist, and likely defense cuts.  The 23 Democrats  likely voted no so they could continue to pound Paul Ryan and other Republicans on entitlement reform and cuts without getting themselves sullied.  So self-preservation and personal interest by this lame duck Senate superseded national interests.  That readers, is failed leadership by the members of that clique.
So good to his word, on February 18th, 2010 via Executive Order 13531, President Obama created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, forever to be known as the Bowles-Simpson Commission.  As ordered, the commission was comprised of members of the Senate and House, and six presidential selections.  They were: highlighted members indicate Republicans who signed Grover Norquist’s anti-tax Americans for Prosperity Pledge:

Alan Simpson, former Republican Senator from Wyoming
Erskin Bowles, President Clinton’s Chief of Staff
Andy Stern, former President of Service Employees International Union
Ann Fudge, former CEO Young and Rubicam Brands
Alice Rivlin, former head of CBO and OMB
David Cote, CEO and Chairman of Honeywell
Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) Co-Chair
Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI)
Representative Dave Camp (R-MI)
Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA)
Representative John Spratt (D-SC)
Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH)
Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK)
Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID)
Senator Max Baucus (D-MT)
Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL)
Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND)

This commission would report back in December, 2010 with recommendations to cut the deficit.  The bylaws were quite simple: The Commission's proposals were not guaranteed to be considered by Congress in a single up-or-down vote and 14 of the 18 commission members had to approve.  The commission split up into working groups to address discretionary spending, taxation, and mandatory spending.  When it was all said and done, the President’s commission offered up a plan that would reduce debt as a percentage of GDP to 30% by 2040 versus the current trajectory of over 200%, through tax increases, entitlement reform, and spending guts.  In other words, the commission’s plan met the fiscal objective.  In summary, the plan called for:
Achieve nearly $4 trillion in deficit reduction through 2020, more than any effort in the nation’s history.
• Reduce the deficit to 2.3% of GDP by 2015 (2.4% excluding Social Security reform), exceeding President’s goal of primary balance (about 3% of GDP).2
• Sharply reduce tax rates, abolish the AMT, and cut backdoor spending in the tax code.
• Cap revenue at 21% of GDP and get spending below 22% and eventually to 21%.
• Ensure lasting Social Security solvency, prevent the projected 22% cuts to come in 2037, reduce elderly poverty, and distribute the burden fairly.
• Stabilize debt by 2014 and reduce debt to 60% of GDP by 2023 and 40% by 2035.
However, the same commission that created the plan failed to get 14 of the 18 members to approve it.  Voting for the report were Bowles, Coburn, Conrad, Crapo, Cote, Durbin, Fudge, Gregg, Rivlin, Simpson, and Spratt. Voting against were Baucus, Becerra, Camp, Hensarling, Ryan, Schakowsky and Stern.  So once again, a mix of Republicans voted for and against the commission’s plans.  Criticism came swiftly from across the spectrum.  Those on the left attacked the spending cuts and entitlement reform.  Those on the right opposed tax increases and defense cuts.  In other words, nobody wanted to swallow the Robitussin.   
Yet somehow that was President Obama’s fault?
Without the commission’s internal approval the report’s recommendations never made it to Congress; just what the House and Senate wanted.  Another year goes by and the can has been kicked further than Forrest Gump ran.
Which brings us to the super committee and its twelve members: highlighted members indicate Republicans who signed Grover Norquist’s anti-tax Americans for Prosperity Pledge
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) Co-chair
Senator Max Baucus (D-MT)
Senator John Kerry (D-MA)
Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)
Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA)
Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA)
Representative Jim Clyburn (D-SC)
Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)
Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) Co-Chair
Representative Fred Upton (R-MI)
Representative Dave Camp (R-MI)

Recognize any names?  Bowles-Simpson leftovers Camp. Hensarling, Baucus, and Becerra were once again chosen to be on the latest deficit fighting incarnation.  Not only did these get selected again, they also voted against Bowles-Simpson as members.  Did this committee really have a snow cone’s chance in Arizona?  Big emphatic no.
Yet somehow that was President Obama’s fault?
And now, in some sort of Dante’s Inferno, there are people in Washington calling for a return to the Bowles-Simpson plan.  Yes dust off a plan that died while still in the executive commission and never made it to Congress; yes because in Congress things get done so efficiently and effectively.  And what happens and it fails in 2012:
Somehow that will be President Obama’s fault.
So back to our questions (1) Why did the JSCDR fail? and (2) How is it President Obama’s fault?
The JSCDR failed because that’s what is was designed to do and it is President Obama’s fault because when you are the only adult in the room with 535 children you get blamed when one of them shits his diaper.

1 comment:

  1. As always - well done. This would be a Divine Comedy but for the reality of it...indeed POTUS is the only adult in the room...