Saturday, September 3, 2011

Everything You Need to Know About the Debt Supercommittee

As part of the last-minute compromise on August 2 that resolved the debt-limit crisis, Congress set up a 12-person Super Committee.  Officially called the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction,this committee was charged with coming up with a permanent fix for the budget and deficit problems facing the country and threatening the still-shaky economic recovery.

The idea that this Super Committee might come up with a "permanent" solution reminds me of some "permanent" solutions to other wide-ranging problems from the very early 20th century:
  • World War I, the "war to end all wars."
  • The League of Nations.  (And its successor, the United Nations.)
In recent years we've also seen "permanent" solutions like No Child Left Behind, which is at best partially successful and at worst an unmitigated disaster in every way.

I can think of so many ways that the Super Committee idea will fail.  All of them have to do with the inability of our elected officials to set aside their own agendas, ignore the Special Interests, be willing to compromise, work together for the common good, and act with foresight, courage and maturity.  And if it does fail, the nation will be plunged into another economic crisis, and members of the Super Committee and Congress at large will stand around, pointing their fingers and blaming everyone but themselves for the failure.

In this article, I will give you the names of the twelve members of the Super Committee, and the timetable for the Super Committee and Congress.  This is public information.  I copied it from the National Journal and the Christian Science Monitor.

Members of the Super Committee

  1. Sen. Max Baucus (D) of Montana - chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which handles Medicare and tax policy.
  2. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D) of California -vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus and senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee.  He voted against the August 2 debt-limit compromise.
  3. Rep. Dave Camp (R) of Michigan - member of the House Ways and Means Committee.  He has a reputation as a moderate who is skilled at "working both sides of the aisle."
  4. Rep. James Clyburn (D) of South Carolina -member of the House Appropriations Committee and No. 3 in the House Democratic Caucus.
  5. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R) of Texas - appointed as co-chair of the Super Committee.  A "true-blue conservative" who is not known for any ability to compromise, or to work effectively with non-conservatives.  To his credit, he broke with the Republicans and didn't buy into the "too big to fail" argument during the bail-out talks of the recent Great Recession.
  6. Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts - former presidential candidate, former chair of the Small Business Committee, current chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Rumor has it that he lobbied hard to get appointed to the Super Committee.
  7. Sen. Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona - Senate Republican whip and member of the Senate Finance Committee.  He retires at the end of this term, so while he may be doing this to pad his résumé, he's not doing it to consolidate his power in the Senate.  He may actually help the Super Committee do something useful.
  8. Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington - appointed as co-chair of the Super Committee.  Chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.  She probably got on the Super Committeeat least in part because she is trusted by Senate majority leader Harry Reid.
  9. Sen. Rob Portman (R) of Ohio - former Representative (for 12 years) and former member of the House Ways and Means Committee, this is his first term as Senator.
  10. Sen. Patrick Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania - also a former Representative (for 6 years) and freshman Senator.  Sen. Toomey has a refreshingly independent voting record:  he has voted with Democrats at times, and against his own party and the Tea Party at times, and he worked with a Democratic Senator to ban earmarks in spending bills.
  11. Rep. Fred Upton (R) of Michigan - chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, with a reputation as a "moderate conservative."  He is suspected of planning to use his position on the Super Committee to further his agenda of weakening environmental protections and taking the teeth out of the Environmental Protection Agency.
  12. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) of Maryland - member of the House Budget Committee.

 Timetable for the Super Committee

In a nutshell, the Super Committee has to come up with a plan for cutting the national debt by $1.5 trillion over x years.  They have to present the formal, approved-by-all-twelve-members, plan to Congress by November 23.  The House and Senate both have to vote to approve the plan by December 23.  (I guess President Obama has to sign it into law by then, too.)  If this doesn't happen, then the automatic spending cuts written into the August 2 compromise swing into action, much to the consternation of American citizens, other national governments, and banks worldwide.

Here are the details.  You know who lives in the details!

Sept. 8: The committee holds its first organizational meeting; on the agenda will be setting the rules.

Sept. 13: First public hearing, which will include testimony on "The History and Drivers of Our Nation's Debt and Its Threats" from Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf.

Sept. 22: Deadline for Congress to consider a resolution of disapproval for first $900 billion tranche of debt limit increase.

Oct. 1-Dec. 31: Timeframe in which both houses of Congress must vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment.

Oct. 14: House and Senate committees must submit recommendations to the committee by this date.

Nov. 23: Deadline for the committee to vote on a plan with $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction.

Dec. 2: Deadline for the committee to submit report and legislative language to the president and Congress.

Dec. 23: Deadline for both houses to vote on the committee bill.

Jan. 15, 2012: Date that the “trigger” leading to $1.2 trillion of future spending cuts goes into effect, if the committee’s legislation has not been enacted.

February 2012: Approximate time when the first $900 billion of debt ceiling increase runs out.

February/March 2012: During this period, 15 days after the president uses his authority in the bill to increase the debt ceiling a second time, is the deadline for Congress to consider a resolution of disapproval for the second tranche ($1.2-$1.5 trillion) of debt limit increase.

Fall/Winter 2012: The additional $2.1-$2.4 trillion of borrowing authority from this law runs out.

Jan. 2, 2013: OMB orders sequestrations for defense and non-defense categories of spending necessary to meet spending cuts required by the “trigger."

Good luck to all of us

Like the great-aunt who throws rice on the bride and groom and wishes them well, then turns around and mutters, "They'll be divorced in less than a year," I wish the Super Committee all the success in the world, but I expect them to fail miserably.  I'd love to be proven wrong on this.

A note on Kerry "lobbying hard" to get on the Super Committee:  I wouldn't be surprised if all twelve of them (and others who didn't get nominated) aspired, and pushed hard, to get onto this committee. However, I don't believe that anybody who did so, did so for primarily altruistic or patriotic reasons.  I'd love to be proven wrong on this, too.

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