In the wake of the debt supercommittee’s failure, members of both parties have battled over whether President Obama should have taken a more active role in the negotiations.
But one factor that has received less scrutiny is whether the congressional leaders who appointed the panel’s 12 members should have pledged to support whatever deal the supercommittee came up with.
Could such a pledge have boosted the panel’s chances?
As we’ve written before, the supercommittee faced not only the possibility of failing to come up with a deal but also the even more politically disastrous scenario of potentially approving a deal that would force both parties to make sacrifices on taxes and entitlements — only to have the proposal go down in defeat in the House or Senate.
Members of the supercommittee were delegated by the Democratic and Republican leaders in both chambers, so those leaders could rest assured that their appointees would be negotiating on behalf of their respective caucuses.
The same wasn’t necessarily true the other way around: The 12 lawmakers had no assurances that their party leaders would unconditionally back any proposal reported out of the committee.
That means that the supercommittee members had little incentive to put their political capital on the line by backing a deal that their own party leaders might not support.
In the weeks leading up to the panel’s deadline this week, congressional leaders in interviews and through aides declined to throw their unconditional support behind any supercommittee plan.
“No; I don’t know what’s in it. . . . I have to see what it is,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last week when asked whether he’d endorse whatever plan the panel came up with.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters he believed if the panel approved a plan, it would pass the House. But he, like other leaders, stopped short of pledging to back whatever proposal the committee put forward.
Members of the supercommittee privately worried that any plan they agreed to might fail on the floor of the House or Senate, even as they – like party leaders — publicly dismissed the possibility of such a scenario.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a brief interview last week that she didn’t think the leaders’ demurrals made the supercommittee’s work any more difficult.
“No, no. The members that our caucus have sent to the table have the authority to negotiate,” she said. “They share our values; they know the issues. They are good negotiators, and if they come back with something, our caucus will receive it very highly.”
It’s worth noting that with the votes of only seven of the panel’s 12 members necessary in order to approve a deal, leaders faced the political danger of prematurely backing a plan that might pass the committee without the support of any of their respective caucus members.
Even so, if Reid, Pelosi, Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had all unconditionally pledged their support for any supercommittee deal, it would have made it that much more difficult for the panel’s members to come up empty-handed — regardless of the White House’s role in the talks.