Optimism, Pessimism, And Coin Flips

Although Congress has been enjoying its August recess, the staffs of the members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction — the so-called “Super Committee” — have been hard at work.  The Committee itself will begin meeting soon.  So, what’s the prognosis for whether the Super Committee can get the deficit reduction job done?

If you have a coin, flip it — because you can find just about every opinion on this topic, from foolish optimism to bleak pessimism, if you look hard enough.  Some people think the structure of the Super Committee and the ability to send any plan that gets majority support directly to the House and Senate floors means that the Super Committee is likely to succeed, whereas others predict, with equal confidence, that the Super Committee will fail.

What’s interesting, and discouraging, about the spectrum of opinions is that they all seem to be based on the kind of “inside baseball” political analysis that most of us find bizarre and infuriating.  No one seems to think that the members of the Super Committee will come to the table ready to reach a significant deal that achieves honest, meaningful deficit reduction because America needs that result.  Even the optimists apparently think that, if a deal is reached, it will be because Republicans and Democrats will conclude that a deal is the best result for Republicans and Democrats, and not because that result is best for the country.

Have we reached the point where our politicians can never lay aside partisanship and recognize that, if they don’t take effective action soon, this country will be brought to its knees?  I think that terrible reality may be the case — which is why I am in the pessimists’ camp on the likely outcome of the Super Committee and its deliberations.

Lobbyist Heaven — And Lobbyist Hell (II)

When the idea of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction was raised, I expressed the hope that Congress would take steps to ensure that the people who served on the “Super Committee” did not trade on their membership for fundraising purposes.

Alas, my hopes were promptly dashed.  According to Roll Call, about two hours after Representative Xavier Becerra, a California Democrat, was named to the “Super Committee,” emailed invitations to a fundraiser touted his appointment and asked attendees to make a “suggested contribution” of $1,500 to “Becerra for Congress.”  The email pointedly states: “This will be Mr. Becerra’s first event since being named to the commission and may be one of the first for any of the twelve members of the group,” and adds, “This event could give all attendees a glimpse into what will most assuredly be the primary topic of discussion between now and the end of the year.”

Becerra says he did not know about the solicitation.  “I did not know, did not ask, would not ask and I will not ask any of my supporters to use my appointment to the select committee for purposes outside its principle [sic] focus,” the Roll Call article quotes him as saying. “That’s my position today and that’s what my position will be for my tenure on the committee.”

Let’s take Representative Becerra at his word.  Isn’t the real problem, though, that in our current system flunkies and cronies and lobbyists can do the wink-wink/nudge-nudge messaging for the candidate, who stays above the unseemly touting?  Incidentally, the Roll Call article reports that the fundraiser is going forward, despite the controversy about the email and invitation linking Becerra’s service with a suggested contribution to his campaign.  I wonder how many $1,500 checks will be made out to “Becerra for Congress”?

The “Super Committee” And The Nixon-To-China Opening

The 12 members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction have been appointed.  Six Republicans, six Democrats; six Senators, six Representatives.  This so-called “Super Committee” will now see whether it can reach agreement on a plan to reduce deficits by at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years.  If they can’t, cuts to defense spending and discretionary programs will take effect.  If they can, their proposal goes directly to the House and Senate floors for up or down votes.

Predictably, each side is criticizing the other side’s choices as political hacks, zealots, empty suits, or outright nuts.  And each side also is expressing concern about their own side’s selections.  Will they stand up to the pressure, or cave in and sacrifice the party’s principles?  Only one person need break ranks to join the other side on a compromise proposal.

From my perspective, the Democratic and Republican selections appear to be predictable, safe, controlled choices who are true to their parties’ principles.  Obviously, they all enjoy credibility with the party leadership, and my guess is that they have similar credibility with the vast majority of the members of their respective caucuses.

This may make reaching an agreement more difficult, but I also wonder whether these selections don’t also allow a possible Nixon-to-China moment.  When President Nixon visited China as part of a diplomatic initiative to open relations with that nation, many noted that Nixon was one of the few people who could do so without being criticized as a communist sympathizer or squishy on national defense.  If a long-time, staunch anti-Communist like Tricky Dick thought opening relations with China and shaking hands with Mao Zedong was a good idea, who could be heard to complain?

Perhaps the reputations of the Super Committee members as stalwart defenders of their parties’ positions on spending and taxes similarly will make any compromise they may reach more saleable in the House and Senate.  If partisans as diverse as Patty Murray and Pat Toomey, Jeb Hensarling and James Clyburn, could possibly find common ground, wouldn’t that provide some cover for others to support the deal?