Newt Does It Again

Terrance Heath

It's come to this. As much as it pains me to say it, I wish we had more Republicans who think like Newt Gingrich. It pains me even more to say this, but I wish we had more Democrats who like Newt Gingrich.

Ah, but I should be more specific. I wish we had more Republicans and Democrats who think like and sound like Newt Gingrich on the subject of the "Super Committee" spawned by the debt limit deal.

OK, I know it's hard, but let's try to forget for just a moment that all the GOP presidential candidates raised their hands to confirm that every single one of them would walk away from a deficit deal that included $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases — a deal ten-to-one in their favor.. Believe it or not, that's not the real indicator of just how far removed from anything resembling sanity we truly are, folks. It's not even what Newt said about the "Super Committee."

Speaking Thursday during the GOP presidential debate in Ames, Iowa, the former House speaker questioned the legitimacy of the 12-member panel that Democratic and Republican congressional leaders filled this week.

"I think this super committee is about as dumb an idea as Washington has come up with in my lifetime," Gingrich said. "I used to run the House of Representatives. I have some general notion of these things. The idea that 523 senators and congressmen are going to sit around for four months while 12 brilliant people, mostly picked for political reasons, are going to sit in some room and brilliantly come up with a trillion dollars, or force us to choose between gutting our military and accepting a tax increase, is irrational.

"They're going to walk in just before Thanksgiving and say, 'All right, we can shoot you in the head or cut off your right leg, which do you prefer?'" he added. "What they ought to do is scrap the committee right now, recognize it's a dumb idea, go back to regular legislative business, assign every subcommittee the task of finding savings. Do it out in the open through regular legislative order and get rid of this secret phony business."

Well, finally somebody said it: How about Congress doing its freakin' job instead of appointing a "Super Committee" to do what everyone knows is going to be a half-assed job of anyway?

Excuse me, but do we really need a brand new legislative body? Don't we already have a legislative body, established by Article? of the Constitution? And do we need a new one that's even less representative of those who'll suffer most from its decisions or indecision, and that's far less accountable to the folks back home? Granted, my representative has been appointed, but if your Senator or Representative didn't make the cut, who exactly do you call to let them know what you think, and why exactly should they care what you think?

And that's the other thing. This whole week I've been watching the back and forth about who would be picked to sit on this "Super Committee," and it was a bit like watching kids pick teams on the schoolyard, but a whole lot more pointless. The whole process felt like picking teams for a game of beach volleyball in Antarctica — a whole lot of noise about somethign that shouldn't even be happening in the first place.

C'mon, we've already pretty much admitted that gridlock might be the best case scenario for this "Super Committee". Republicans have appointed six guys that only Grover Norquist could love, because they've signed his pledge against any kind of tax increases. (And, yes, apparently closing tax loopholes is a tax increase on this side of the looking glass.) Meanwhile, Democrats are already promising to be "flexible" draw no lines in the sand.

That sounds like the same negotiating stance that got us here. Which is why deadlocked "Super Committee" would be bleasing. Because if this group actually does its job, it'll do a job on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And that'll just be the appetizer.

It's likely to be staffed by lobbyists (like the deficit commission before it), anyway. So, the only other people the members of the "Super Committee" are likely to be responsive to, besides the lobbyists on staff, are their colleagues who are running for re-election. That is, the people who created this "Super Committee" and chose its members, because they know that (a) something's gotta be done, but little good will come of it because (b) there are few good choices left, and (c) almost no one in Washington wants their fingerprints on the final outbome.

That's probably why Congress and the White House finally punted the tough decisions, instead of doing their jobs.

The Budget Control Act of 2011, which President Obama signed on Tuesday after Congress passed it by wide margins, is as contrived as the artificial crisis that spawned it. The bill, like a tired opera production, is full of clumsy staging and failed gimmicks left over from previous decades. It is not only bad policy in its goals of cutting spending too much, but it is bad procedure. It allows members of Congress to avoid responsibility for their actions through a cutout committee, a spending limit and the pretense that this Congress can tell the next one what to do.

The budget act does its initial damage with a $917 billion cap on spending over the next decade, then turns everything over to a special joint committee to do the rest. Between now and Thanksgiving, this committee is supposed to come up with as much as $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction measures. In theory, that can be anything: tax increases, tax reform or cuts to the military, domestic programs or entitlements. In practice, dont expect much.

…Supercommittees and trigger mechanisms have a terrible track record in Washington because they constrain responsibility and political choice. The world changes every month, and legislative straitjackets are almost always discarded after a big show of lacing them on. This bill, like its predecessors, will probably be sharply modified years from now after the fight that produced it is long forgotten. In the meantime, voters should be wary of politicians who substitute gimmickry for governing.

Granted, it doesn't take a genius to figure this out. Nor does it take any great insight to speak up about it, as many already have.

Yet, I haven't heard anyone in Washington speak up, and speak honestly about how dumb and idea this is. So, it falls to Newt Gingrich. I expect that when it comes to Republicans. There are so few voices of reason left on their side, and the brightest light in their field of 2012 presidential candidates is someone whose understanding of fiscal matters is somewhat less sophisticated than my eight-year-old's, and whose called the Ryan Budget out for what it was. So, he's right again, just for a minute.

Would that a few more Republicans — and, perhaps, even some Democrats — would sound off as loudly about this "Super Committee" from Bizarro World.

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