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Supercommittee never had a chance

Posted: November 24, 2011 - 1:07am

The following editorial first appeared in the Dallas Morning News:

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction — the supercommittee — was a hastily thrown together Hail Mary. It never really had a chance.

Which puts it right in line with so much of what Congress does these days.

This group’s inability to agree on a mere $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years was a failure of fundamentals. Instead of 12 statesmen working together to solve a problem, its members started and ended as two six-person teams motivated only by winning an argument.

If your worldview leads you to reflexively blame Democrats or Republicans, here’s your chance. Be honest, though: Your feet never moved. If your view is that you’re way too busy to worry about Washington, perhaps you’re part of the problem, too.

The supercommittee failure was a symptom. The larger problem is the increasing intractability of the competing visions for governing America.

Sadly, this committee had a long-shot chance to do some real good through reforming our tax laws to a flatter, fairer system and, at the same time, reining in the rampant, entitlement-driven spending that threatens to swallow the federal budget whole. Instead, members talked past each other, retreated to sound bites and party caucuses to reinflate their egos and trooped back to the conference table to pound their chests about the solitary rightness of their cause.

Stop us if this sounds like the war over raising the debt ceiling or the pitched battles over budgets and stopgap spending measures to keep the government’s lights turned on.

Same fights, same myopia, same absence of compromise. Meanwhile, the U.S. debt spins wildly past $15 trillion. To contextualize the supercommittee’s fecklessness, even if it had succeeded at its statutory target in deficit reduction, deficits overall still would have risen. The bleeding goes on.

And any hopes of a $4 trillion “grand bargain,” perhaps along the lines proposed nearly two years ago by President Barack Obama’s debt commission? Never in the game. The Simpson-Bowles commission may go down as our last glimpse of bipartisan common sense, and even that group couldn’t produce the majority sentiment needed to force Congress’ hand.

The new buzz in Congress is to figure a way around the law that backstopped the supercommittee with automatic spending triggers, including deep cuts to defense and some domestic programs. These sequestration cuts, scheduled to take effect in 2013, grew out of desperation, not deliberation, but Congress would be wiser to leave them be until they have consensus support for something better.

And we know the odds of that happening.

These are who we keep electing to represent us in Washington. No matter how difficult the times, the job is beyond them. It’s not beyond every American, but we’re obviously not sending the right ones.

Congress is responsible for its failures. We are responsible for choosing the members incapable of getting things done.

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