Ezra Klein’s “Wonkbook” is invaluable for anyone trying to follow the Washington policymaking process. Each day it offers its readers everything from the latest CBO analyses to the newest latest adorable animal videos. Since I’m both an obsessive reader of reports and a watcher of cute animal videos (I personally posted this clip of a baby kitten being hugged by its mother when it was having a nightmare), I’m glad it’s around.
In the contentious and confused world of political debate, the data informs us and the videos humanize us. (Although I have to say the Corgi riding a playground swing in this morning’s Wonkbook video doesn’t look too thrilled with the experience.) But that doesn’t mean we’ll always react to the same information in the same way.
Take the bipartisan Congressional “supercommittee” tasked with cutting the Federal deficit. This morning’s Wonkbook tells us that Republicans on the Committee aren’t just resisting a deal. They’re also working to undercut the defense spending part of the “triggers” – those automatic cuts that were to take effect if no compromise was reached.
Ezra writes that Republicans are “reneging on the terms of the debt-ceiling deal,” and concludes: “The reality is, the supercommittee might not just end without reaching a deal. It might end by undoing a previous deal, and by making the two sides trust each other less in future deals. That’s not just failure. That’s sabotage.”
You say that like it’s a bad thing. A supercommittee failure would be great news. It doesn’t matter who blows up the process, as long as it’s stopped. Sabotage the supercommittee? Don’t mind if you do!
The idea was a terrible one from the start. The country’s wracked with devastating levels of un- and underemployment (the figures vary from 24 to 25 million Americans), wages have stagnated for the middle class, and our infrastructure is crumbling. Yet both parties have adopted the misguided right-wing idea that deficits – an important long-term concern – are our most important immediate concern. That defies both economic logic, which says we must invest now to get the economy going, and polling data, which shows that the public wants Washington to fix the economy before it cuts deficit spending.
It would be anything but tragic if the supercommittee process broke down over Republican intransigence. In fact, it would be terrific! But continued Democratic missteps could lead to a real tragedy. Right now Harry Reid and the President are both insisting that those triggers be enacted to both defense and domestic cuts if the committee fails to propose a plan. That puts them in the position of advocating Medicare cuts that Republicans can then claim to have opposed. The GOP ran that play against them in 2010, and it worked.
Wouldn’t it be better if the Democrats moved the dialog back where it belongs instead – back to creating jobs and rebuilding the American economy? The President made a start with his Jobs Act, which has helped him in the polls. And while it’s far from what it should be, enacting it would be very good for the country. So why not go with what works?
Americans – and often even a majority of Republicans – oppose cutting Medicare or Social Security to reduce Federal deficits. Yet that’s exactly what the Democratic supercommittee proposal suggests.Somehow the White House team has even managed to convince itself that this would be smart politics. Klein’s White House sources as usually very good, and as he reported the other day:
“For most of this year, the White House has thought that the surest path to President Obama’s reelection was to strike a big deficit deal with Republicans, or at least be seen trying to strike a big deficit deal with Republicans.”
The deficit-cutting process was always a political death trap for Democrats in particular. The party once known for Social Security, Medicare, and fighting poverty had nothing to gain and everything to lose by sacrificing middle class and lower-income interests in a misguided effort to please markets that are indifferent to their efforts. The fact that they must deal with the most extremist Republicans in political history makes the exercise even more ill-advised. Perhaps to provide a veneer of legitimacy to future deals, the President and some in his party increasingly adopted the nonsensical rhetoric of the anti-government right.
Here’s the truth: Deficits matter, but they’re not our urgent priority – and job creation would help there, too. And no, Mr. President, a government’s budget is not like a family’s budget. The markets and ratings agencies don’t seem to care much about the supercommittee.
Besides, no family would let Grandma go without needed medical care just so that it could lower its FICO score.
Their miguided efforts led to a political dialog that’s wildly divorced from the electorate’s concerns and wishes. While voters struggled with underwater mortgages, low wages, and a shortage of full-time jobs, Barack Obama and Hill Republicans were posturing over who would cut the Federal deficit more. The austerity train rumbled forward relentlessly, rendering Washington’s arguments largely irrelevant to the public, while voters looked on as helplessly … well, as helplessly as a Corgi in a playground swing.
That’s why the Occupy movement has captured the public’s interests. It has helped shift the dialog back where it belongs: to creating jobs, restraining Wall Street, and asking the wealthy to pay their fair share. The President’s Jobs Act, while not as strong as it should have been, was a step in the right direction. But it’s not clear that he and other Democrats are getting the message. Today we’re told that “the Obama Administration is quietly bracing for supercommittee failure.”
“Bracing” for failure? They should be praying for it. I know I am. Sabotage the supercommittee? We say “go for it.”
 Style note: Klein and the Washington Post have been using “supercommittee” when writing about this extrajudicial body, while I and others have been using “Super Committee.”
That’s another problem with this attempted end run around the political process, using an unprecedented body that deliberates in secret and whose decisions must be subject to a straight up-and-down vote with no amendments and limited debate.
Writers like us know the naming conventions for democratic political terms like Congressional Committee, Caucus, or cloture. But when it comes to a non-democratic body like this one, the rules haven’t been written yet. So give us all a break and knock it off, would ya?