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?

Sources:

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. AY,
    I don’t disagree with you that it is probably constitutional, however, it does seem that the super committee has more power than most committees and its mandate prevents any amendments and in secrecy. Is this what we need to break through the partisan mess? I agree with Gene that it will probably make it worse.

  2. Roco,

    I didn’t mention constitutionality because I didn’t see it as an insurmountable issue. If they had structured the committee to act without Congressional approval, yeah, that would have been a huge issue, but as it is it is legal. Is it ethical? Not in the slightest. It’s purely a partisan power consolidation move that allows Congress to ratchet up the stakes in the already ridiculous partisan gamesmanship on the Hill. It’s a huge disservice to the American people and it will likely result in further economic catastrophe for the vast majority of the population.

  3. I think that the super power delegated in the legislature is Constitutional and will with stand any judicial challenge…..Why because a balanced budget is a good thing…even with this Sct Court….now if a tax bill originated in the senate, it would most certainly be struck down…even if the house passed what was sent to it from the senate…as all tax bills must originate in the house by the definition of the Constitution….. So long as the full body passes each piece by the appropriate numbers then what is the harm done to an Art II branch?…a automatic budget reduction in the event of an impasse is Constitutional….didn’t the Sct court say that the administrative rules making process must still be approved by the appropriate legislative body….even for Art I offices?

    raff,

    In conclusion….Yes…I think that they are in as much as the Sct delegates its day to day research to law student for review…and finally a body of law students and lawyers to prep them for the final judicial review…..

    Taking the opinion that because it is not specifically delegated then it must unconstitutional…is like saying that the president cannot have cabinet members advising them to make decisions…they do and none of them are arguably constitutional in nature….but they have become accepted…didn’t Washington only have 4 or 5? I am unsure of what the number is today….The only Cabinet member that has to be a US Born citizen is the Secretary of State….I think Art XXV states the order of succession is the President, Vice President, Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tem of the Senate….and I think the Secretary of State……

    Have you ever noticed that at a State of the Union Address at least one cabinet member is absent……they are the designated survivors…….in the event of the death of all of the Art XXV line of succession….

    So in reality…what is the difference between the Super Congress and this….

  4. Frankly:

    “While inflation has made everything the government does cost more…”

    The government has caused the inflation you dont like.

    Companies hire when they think they can make money, businesses arent in the make work program. They either make a profit or they go out of business.

    Let’s say a business has 100 workers and they need to let go 25 people because sales have fallen off. Should they keep paying those 25 people and go out of business so that now all 100 are in the same boat? Or should they reduce costs and improve efficiency so that 75 people remain employed?

  5. I’m surprised that JT had not picked up the topic earlier. I think Rafflaw correctly identifies the question not answered:

    Is the Super Congress constitutional?

    That is what we should be debating.

  6. Roco – even if the government never did another new thing it would still cost more every year simply because there are more people to do it for. Its fine to reduce the waste and inefficiencies (although I do not recall Clinton/Gore getting any credit for the job they did in this area in the early days of their admin). But that is a different thing from expecting government to cost less year over year into infinity.

    The reason we have a ‘disaster’ is simply because the wealthy and the corporations have stopped paying taxes in any sort of reasonable way coupled with they fact that American companies have stopped hiring American workers. Average income has been flat for nearly 40 years. While inflation has made everything the government does cost more working people have not kept up & are paying less in taxes that they would have normal salary inflation been allowed to work over time.

    But those days are coming to an end. the teabaggers and their bots in Congress have pulled the last struts out & the media has played along. Chinese workers making $5 a day will never buy those $100 sneakers Americans used to. In the future so few Americans will be able to that the whole mess will crash down around us.

  7. Mike Spindell:

    how are tea partiers playing fiscal chicken? Seems to me they want to reduce spending in terms of real dollars. I would like to see spending rolled back to 1995 levels over the next 15 years. 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, ….. until you get government back to the exact same amount of money spent in 1995 and do not adjust for inflation. Government ran just fine back then.

    That would be real cuts and not a reduction in increase which is what the tea party was fighting against. Boehner/Pelosi only wanted to cut the increase not the actual spending.

    Only in DC is a reduction in spending thought to be buying a new Mercedes instead of a new Rolls Royce.

    We already have a disaster if you hadnt noticed. And the only way out of it is to cut government spending dramatically. If you raise taxes you will only decrease revenues while we are in an economic downturn.

  8. “While the analogy of a sword works to describe this situation, there is one that works better: a gun loaded to play Russian Roulette.”

    Gene,

    The analogy is apt. More importantly this was a Post that needed to be written and to be discussed here. Whenever a Legislature and an Executive get together to put off difficult decisions, in a manner meant to pull the wool over citizen’s eyes, disaster is most probably the outcome. This recipe for the enactment of the Law of Unintended Consequences will most likely cook an unpleasant meal for all of us.

    Besides that though, while this may be constitutional, I don’t believe it is what our Founding Fathers intended as a means of governance. Condemning this should not be a partisan issue because the willingness of the teabaggers to play fiscal chicken, is matched by the cowardice of the President and the Democratic leadership to let them get away with it. In the end politics is about gaining and wielding power. If you give people, with a
    particular agenda an opening to wield power, then they will wield it. You only get points when you actively oppose it and not when you appease it.

    Disaster for this country may well be in the making, but I doubt there is anyone inside the “Establishment” who understands the danger and the full possibilities. Ethical hubris and moral cowardice are two heads of the same coin, I’ve got no idea on which side the coin will land on in this stupid endeavor.

  9. Gene H:

    where in the Constitution is it illegal to have a congressional committee?

    And why do we have so many committees now? Dont they just act as conduits for lobbyists? Most of the laws passed by congress are made up shit anyway based on special interest groups need. You dont seem to mind the other committees pulling crap out of a lobbyists behind, why is this committee any different?

    But I do agree with you on this, it isnt a good thing and should not see the light of day.

  10. They have many, many sub, sub committees that work on the budgets….It is my understanding that the military budget is one of the most secured and not open for debate on the floor….once it even makes it to the budget committee….all of the details are worked out beforehand….

    raff, the regular standing committee does the remainder of the budgets…. you should take a look at this:

    In the United States Congress, standing committees are permanent legislative panels established by the United States House of Representatives and United States Senate rules. (House Rule X, Senate Rule XXV). Because they have legislative jurisdiction, standing committees consider bills and issues and recommend measures for consideration by their respective chambers. They also have oversight responsibility to monitor agencies, programs, and activities within their jurisdictions, and in some cases in areas that cut across committee jurisdictions. Due to their permanent nature, these committees exist beyond the adjournment of each two year meeting of Congress.
    Most standing committees recommend funding levels—authorizations—for government operations and for new and existing programs. A few have other functions. For example, the Appropriations Committees recommend legislation to provide budget authority for federal agencies and programs. The Budget Committees establish aggregate levels for total spending and revenue that serve as guidelines for the work of the authorizing and appropriating panels. Committees also provide oversight of federal agencies and programs.
    The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 greatly reduced the number of committees. The membership of each committee is adopted at the beginning of each Congress, usually by adoption of a formal resolution. Each committee is assigned its own staff to assist with its legislative, investigative, and research functions. Several committees divide their work into sub units called subcommittees.

    The Senate currently has 20 standing committees, and 4 permanent select or special committees. The House has 23 standing committees and three permanent select committees.

    Committee sizes range from 6 to 50 members per committee. In the House, one person may not serve on more than two standing committees and four subcommittees at one time, though waivers can be granted to serve on additional committees. Also in the House, the Committee on Committees assigns Republican representatives to their committee(s), while the Steering and Policy Committee is in charge of assigning Democratic representatives to committees. The Senate follows similar procedures, with senators being limited to no more than three full committees and five subcommittees.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standing_committee_(United_States_Congress)

    The answer to this question is not as obvious as one would think…

  11. Let’s just charge them with treason and be done with it.

    Gene, Thanks for the links from the Center for Public Integrity on each of these individuals … most informative.

  12. eniobob, that is an excellent point. I do not think that the gun to the head process is a sound one. It will only produce more trouble for the middle class because these party regulars on both sides of the aisle do not represent those who are struggling to find and keep jobs, as well as to pay their bills.
    Is there a Constitutional problem with this kind of “Super committee?

  13. I saw a response to this question awhile back,and what it meant was if these (12) reps can do the job why do we need the other 94 Senators and the 429 congresspeople?

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