On the supercommittee

For the last week or so, I’ve been reading all over the place about what a colossal failure the Congressional supercommittee has been for failing to reach a deficit deal and, as a consequence, automatically triggering $1.2 trillion of “sequester” cuts. To take one recent example, this week’s Economist stated that “the implications of the committee’s failure are more disturbing than the reaction of the markets has let on” and argued that, going forward, “Congress will be trying to undo the supposedly automatic budget cuts it agreed to only in order to make it impossible for the supercommittee to fail.”

Perhaps this is a naive question, but why is no one floating the possibility that the “failure” of the supercommittee was actually intentional? Or at the very least, semi-intentional. One of the biggest problems with the debt negotiations going all the way back to the debt-ceiling crisis, it seems to me, was that even the members of Congress who wanted to cut a deal felt they didn’t have sufficient political cover to do so. This was especially true on the Republican side, which is facing extraordinary rightward pressures from the Tea Party, Grover Norquist’s cultish no-tax-increases “pledge,” et al.

So then, wouldn’t automatically triggered cuts, in the event of a “failure” to reach a deal, work beautifully for both sides? In that, during months of negotiations, the two parties couldn’t reach any agreement in the traditional sense (writing a deficit-reduction bill and passing it) due to pressures from their respective political bases, instituting the very same type of deal but calling it a “failure” (for which each side can blame the other) is a fancy little way of avoiding criticism by pretending that that the “sequester” cuts were not expected to ever occur. Now, both Republicans and Democrats get to hammer each other for obstructing the deal, but there’s no clear loser — except for the institution of Congress itself, whose approval ratings are, quite frankly, already at rock-bottom anyway. Democrats get to talk about how they’ve cut defense (liberal red meat) and how Obama will veto any attempts to reverse this; Republicans get to crow about taking a step to tackle the deficit (conservative red meat). I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “win-win” situation, but I don’t see how it’s particularly damaging for the parties either. The one “loser” besides Congress in all of this could be Obama, but given the disparity between his approval ratings and those of Congress, it seems the American public has at least a cursory notion of which institution has proved itself so useless for the past couple years.

Am I wrong on this?

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