Super Congress or Stupid Congress?

Submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

A recent development in Congress is the creation of the so-called “Super Congress”; a bi-partisan committee tasked with recommending steps to reduce federal budget deficits by at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Like most committees, the Super Congress has to submit its recommendations to the rest of Congress for consideration. Unlike most committees, the Super Congress has a loaded back-end provision that will institute automatic military and domestic (read Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid) spending cuts in 2013 that neither side wants will be triggered. This would seem to give the committee some incentives to find viable solutions. But does it really?

None of the Senators and Representatives on the committee are the usual deficit hawks from Congress, for example, no senators from the current Gang of Six. Indeed, the committee is stacked with Senators and Representatives seen as party loyalists unlikely to do anything without express party leadership approval. This also indicates that the long term deficit power players sense a “stink” from this committee that they don’t want to be associated with moving forward. As a matter of pure political maneuvering, this is an interesting sign that viable solutions from this committee are not generally expected to come about by the Washington hoi polloi. Each “side” – again showing the ridiculous nature of a two party dominated system – seems to be holding their breath and hedging their bets on “their side” winning at the polls next election cycle.

It is important to remember as well that this committee is appointed by partisan leadership and not elected to this serious task by the majority of Americans. The creation of this committee has received lukewarm support from both parties and criticism all around. Also consider that given our lax and easily circumvent lobbying reporting requirements, this committee is effectively chum of lobbyist sharks. They haven’t even met yet and the Chamber of Commerce has already sent all twelve members letters last week outlining its priorities.

The back loaded automatic cuts provision is a sword that cuts both ways. Republicans want to cut critical social programs like Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid and preserve defense spending while Democrats want to preserve domestic spending and cut military spending. While the analogy of a sword works to describe this situation, there is one that works better: a gun loaded to play Russian Roulette. There is very little transparency required of this committee. Standing committees of Congress may send suggestions to the “Super Congress”, but there are no provisions to make these suggestions public. Some of those standing committees already operate in closed sessions such as the Senate Armed Services subcommittees. The final recommendations of the “Super Congress”, while to be published, have no specific details as to how they are to be published. The way the committee is structured, they will present a final bill with no chance of amendment or public input. They will be presenting bills to Congress that are little more than a take it or leave it demand. A hostage ransom demand. They have no incentive to reach accord politically. They have no incentive to reach accord structurally. They have no incentive to reach accord outside the eyes of public scrutiny. They have no incentive to reach accord.

Consider the outcomes if this committee does not find adequate budget cuts before the deadline. If the Republicans win at the polls, they get to cut Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid and deny any responsibility. If the Democrats win at the polls, they get to cut military spending without appearing to be soft on defense. There is no real incentive to find a solution with the automatic spending cuts provision. There is only the incentive for more political gamesmanship at the expense of the economy and people’s lives that play to the special interests in the weapons/military logistics industry and the health care insurance industry. This committee is playing political Russian Roulette, but the gun is pointed squarely at the heads of the American people they are supposed to be representing.

The Declaration of Independence says, in part and addressing the specific grievances with King George’s government;

“Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
[. . . ]
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
[. . . ]
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.”

Reverend Jonathan Mayhew, a minister at Old West Church in Boston, Massachusetts, is credited with creating the Revolutionary War slogan “No Taxation Without Representation!” in a sermon given in 1750. This rallying cry was important not only in our own revolutionary war against a tyrannical government past, but in the current context as well. The only modernization of the slogan might be “No Taxation Or Spending Without Representation!”

If you’d like to see details of the members of this unelected “Super Congress”, the Center for Public Integrity has put together excellent summaries of each member, including their top campaign contributors, relationships with revolving door lobbyists and any statements each politician may have issued concerning this committee. The following links will take you to the summaries:

Democratic Senators:

Patty Murray of Washington
John Kerry of Massachusetts
Max Baucus of Montana

Republican Senators:

Jon Kyl of Arizona
Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania
Rob Portman of Ohio

Republican House members:

Jeb Hensarling of Texas
Dave Camp of Michigan
Fred Upton of Michigan

Democratic House members:

James Clyburn of South Carolina
Xavier Becerra of California
Chris Van Hollen of Maryland

Do you think this “Super Congress” is likely to accomplish anything of substance or are they simply engaged in more self-aggrandizing political gamesmanship at the expense of the American people?


The Center for Public Integrity iWatch News, Huffington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times (1) (2)

~Submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

24 thoughts on “Super Congress or Stupid Congress?”

  1. Well put Lotta. I agree also with Carol Levy that the Teapublicans have no intention of agreeing on the cuts and/or tax increases. They are out to destroy the economy, if it means defeating Obama.

  2. “how are tea partiers playing fiscal chicken?”


    By using raising the debt limit to start a financial crisis, when all the raise meant was to pay debts already incurred. Threaten those that you are in debt to that you’re possibly not paying them off and you’ll see how they react.

    Our “debt crisis” has been caused directly by four factors: 1. The Bush Tax cuts. 2. The avoidance of corporate taxes. 3. The two wars that Bush kept off of the budget and Obama properly added back on. 4. Maintenance of a defense budget larger than that of the rest of the industrialized nations combined.

    The teabaggers will do nothing about any of that and thus are economic terrorists with no solutions except to continue fiscal policies that Ronald Reagan started and George W. Bush implemented to complete failure. You can’t constantly keep lowering taxes on those with the most capital,while increasing spending on defense and handouts to major entities. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing that leads to disaster over and over again. That is the policies advocated by teabaggers and given they’re intransigence and no-nothing outlook, they are indeed terrorists playing chicken with our lives and our country.

  3. One of the most useful attributes of this committee is that it allows congress to wash its hands of one of its two primary jobs, formulate a budget. Instead of arguing the cuts, or revenue increases if it functioned properly- which it won’t, and taking a vote which constituents could use to measure fitness for office in its politicians, it defaults to prearranged cuts. Everyone in congress can just say “it wasn’t me” as Gene stated. This is the political equivalent of a get out of jail free card.

    It is to me very much like the War Powers Act which gets Congress off the hook for its only other real job, declaring war. I have no faith that now that this committee is on the books that it will ever be disbanded or that the method of setting broad goals, imposing a time limit and abdicating responsibility for the nuts and bolts of setting a budget will ever return to the Congress at large. This kind of committee makes it too easy to increase budgetary secrecy while insulating individual Congress-persons of accountability and responsibility.

    Between the War Powers Act and the rise of a super committee for budgetary matters the Congress is superfluous.

    AY, it is probably Constitutional, anything that can be chalked up to procedure or methodology that Congress wants to adopt is. I still must mention though that while the letter of the Constitution is met, the spirit and intent is hardly maintained IMO.

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