Six Reasons the Supercommittee Will Succeed

Six Reasons the Supercommittee Will Succeed

By Paul Weinstein - September 2, 2011

Whatever you think of Standard and Poor’s decision to downgrade America’s credit, their justification was fairly plain. Political gridlock has managed to scuttle several successive efforts to get a handle on the federal debt. And few, if anyone, is sanguine that the new “supercommittee” in Congress will have any better luck.

But a closer look reveals that, despite the nation’s pessimism, there are several reasons to believe that the 12-member supercommittee may be able to implement a plan that sets the nation back on track. The setup has been rigged to force a deal. So, in an age where “shorting” the market has become a sort of dirty word, the smart money may be in betting that Washington will enact a responsible comprehensive budget framework by the end of the year.

First, the dynamics of the committee itself suggest that that building sufficient support in the room will be that much more palatable. Negotiators need only corral seven of the twelve members (50 percent plus one) to send any deal straight to the floor of both houses of Congress. By comparison, the Bowles-Simpson Fiscal Commission was required to receive a full 77 percent, and managed only 61. In essence, the fact that a decision by any single member could boost any proposal past the required threshold will compel every member of the commission to negotiate in a serious manner. That diminishes the likelihood that political shenanigans will scuttle this deal like they have undermined previous negotiations.

Second, the supercommittee doesn’t have to start from scratch. Several proposals already developed–the Fiscal Commission, the Gang of Six, the Rivlin-Domenici plan, and the Obama-Boehner discussions—have already outlined the parameters of what might be in a grand bargain. As a result, most members of the supercommittee understand where the tradeoffs can be made.

Third, every member knows what is at stake. If the supercommittee, and subsequently Congress, can’t pass a deal that actually puts our country back on a sustainable path, then the markets will continue to tumble, our ability to climb out of the current economic funk will be lessened, and the prospects of a double dip recession will grow. No member of the supercommittee wants to be subject to that sort of culpability.

Fourth, the American public is hungry for a grand bargain. According to a recent poll, 60 percent of Americans say the committee should compromise, even if the deal is something they personally don’t agree with. Even if you break the participants down by party ID, a majority of Democrats, Republicans, and independents support a deal.

Fifth, the automatic triggers that will take effect in 2013 in the case that the supercommittee fails would cut against the interests of both Democrats and Republicans. Conservatives have railed against cuts to the armed forces, and progressives are dismayed by the prospect of more cuts to education, infrastructure, and the environment. So members from both sides are likely to be more fearful than previous negotiators by the prospect of failure.

Finally, and maybe most important, the path to the final approval of any deal the supercommittee passes has been short-circuited. If seven member of the supercommittee can agree on a plan, the proposal will go directly to both the House and the Senate for an up or down vote, without any opportunity for amendments. And that means that Congress’ arcane procedures will not be able to scuttle any negotiated settlement.

No doubt, there will be white knuckles in the months to come. The supercommittee has been given a difficult task. But much as previous efforts have fallen short, there are several reasons to believe this next effort may succeed. Here’s to hoping that, despite the conventional wisdom, this new path toward fiscal responsibility manages to implement the elusive grand bargain the public demands. 

Paul Weinstein Jr. directs the graduate program in public management at Johns Hopkins University and is a fellow at the Bowles-Simpson Moment of Truth Project.

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