Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Super Dud

Shocking though it may be, the nation is still intact.  That's right, friends, the Supercommittee has announced its failure, but the world hasn't melted down quite yet, and life goes on.  In fact, it goes on pretty much as it was going on yesterday, last week, and last month.  Here's what happened:
To the surprise of nobody, the Congressional Supercommittee tasked with coming up with $1.2 trillion in deficit-cutting measures has completely failed.

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then Washington is officially bonkers. The entirely predictable face-plant of the Supercommittee came on the heels of the highly predictable failure of the Simpson-Bowles Commission and the Obama-Boehner grand bargain talks.

You don't have to have a Ph.d. in political science to grasp the dynamic at work. The White House has a set of preferences, which it has laid out here. But it doesn't spend a lot of time campaigning for them, and it doesn't believe that getting intensely involved in the negotiations will help move the ball. Democrats aren't entirely sure what they want, though they insist any large deficit reduction deal must include significant tax increases, preferably on higher-income earners and companies. Otherwise, they won't consider significant changes in entitlements that their forebears created, like Social Security and Medicare. As for Republicans, there are two things they aren't interested in: (1) raising taxes; and (2) doing a large deal with President Obama that will give him an achievement going into the next election..

Oh, and the overwhelming majority of people who parade around Washington posing as fiscal hawks are frauds. They're the ones who created a tax system that collects revenues that can't fully fund the spending system they also voted to create.
The blame game has commenced, with fingerpointing all around.  Of course, this hurts the GOP worst because Obama can now campaign against a 'do-nothing Congress' for the next year or so.  This is exactly the outcome he wanted in all this mess, because he certainly can't campaign on his abysmal record.  Anyway, here's a bit of analysis that I think is dead on:
The real cause of the failure of the supercommittee was the idea that a supercommittee would act any differently than the Congress at large.  Instead of using the normal process of having each chamber pass their own bills and using a conference committee to reconcile them, the debt-ceiling deal assumed that a dozen eminences grises could hand down a solution from on high that would significantly depart from the months and years of debate that had already taken place over the debt and deficit problem.  The members of this committee were a part of that debate, which means they took the same issues into their chamber that everyone else had to handle outside of it.

Instead of using the proper procedure, we’ve just wasted three months in pursuit of a Deus ex machina rescue that was never going to materialize.  While that’s bad news in the short run, it’s probably good news in the long run.  Anyone proposing blue-ribbon supercommittees in the future will be laughed out of town –  which is what should have happened the first time.
One interesting side note:
He’s actually generated a glimmer of bipartisanship in a moment of stark partisanship: Prominent Republicans, Democrats, and even independents are blaming him for contributing to the Committee’s failure.
I generally frown upon bipartisanship, but in this case I'll make an exception.  

Anyway, back when the deal was struck to form this supercommittee, there was a clause that dictated some required automatic cuts if they failed to bring forth a plan, so some are saying that these automatic cuts are a silver lining that may actually be the best possible outcome.  Um...not exactly:
Failing to enact the plan by January 15, 2012, would result in automatic cuts to military spending–a scenario that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta describes as “devastating.”
That would be Democrat Leon Panetta, former Clinton advisor and now Obama's own hand-picked Defense Secretary.  If he's saying these cuts would be devastating, you know they're bad.
In letters sent to Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) last week, Panetta detailed the danger of further defense cuts if the super committee fails to meet its target. Panetta said that under the worst-case scenario, “the total cut will rise to about $1 trillion compared with the FY 2012 plan,” which in practical terms means “the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of  ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history.”

What’s more, as Panetta explained, the Pentagon would face the prospect of terminating the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; littoral combat ship; all ground combat vehicle and helicopter modernization programs; European missile defense; all unmanned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems. It may also have to delay the next-generation ballistic missile submarine; terminate next-generation bomber efforts; and eliminate the entire intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) leg of America’s nuclear “triad.”

And amidst these potential reductions to U.S. forces, Panetta wrote, “Unfortunately, while large cuts are being imposed, the threats to national security would not be reduced. As a result, we would have to formulate a new security strategy that accepted substantial risk of not meeting our defense needs.” Tragically, America’s military is being threatened despite the fact that national defense is the priority job of the national government, as set forth in the U.S. Constitution.

I'm no professional political pundit, but when a die-hard liberal Democrat is talking like a conservative about defense and Constitutional priorities, it means he's either campaigning or facing a truly desperate situation.  In this case, Panetta is not campaigning, so that makes it pretty obvious.  Much more at the link above.  Personally, I think this is a gladly accepted side effect to the supercommittee's failure - not only does Obama get his one and only possible campaign issue handed to him, but any chance for a liberal to take a chunk out of the American military is a good thing (for the liberal).  It's a sad reality, but a reality nonetheless.

Still, there is the real problem of cuts - if cuts have to be made, where should they be focused?  Here are two suggestions.  First, how about entitlements rather than defense?

The major misconception here is that people will be harmed if any entitlements get cut, but that's not true.  There are hundreds of billions of dollars being wasted every year on redundant programs that should be easy, no-brainer reductions.

And how about the big one?  Obamacare is the elephant in the room:
The money could come from Obamacare, to avoid implementing its huge expenses.  Repealing the health care law would solve the super committee’s dilemma, yielding more than enough savings to fulfill their mission.

Yet Obamacare has been placed “off-limits” for no good reason.

As POLITICO noted:
“Anyone tracking the super committee has heard the mantra: Everything is on the table.  But there’s one big item that doesn’t appear to be on that gigantic deficit-cutting table: President Barack Obama’s health reform law, his signature domestic achievement.”
By itself, repeal of Obamacare would more than fulfill the mission assigned to the super committee.  If we didn’t have the expense of Obamacare, it would save more than the $1.2-trillion in savings they are supposed to find over the next 10 years.

But gutting it now would prevent these massive inevitable expenses from ever becoming reality, with one major added benefit:
...Obamacare’s brand-new entitlement programs are not yet operative, so nobody’s current benefits would be lost or reduced.  Cutting out those Obamacare programs would also avoid the defense cuts and Medicare cuts that otherwise would occur (under sequestration law) if the super committee fails to find $1.2-trillion somewhere else.
Is anyone else seeing the irony here?

Anyway, it's not complex to get this done, with the proper perspective and understanding of the context we're living in.  Unfortunately, it's simply not going to happen, at least not as long as Democrats remain in charge of anything.

But the world isn't going to end just because the supercommittee fails.

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