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Posted at 12:44 PM ET, 11/21/2011

What failure? We can still save the Supercommittee


Happy Thanksgiving! (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite)
It’s not too late for the supercommittee.

Admittedly, they started at a disadvantage.

It’s all in the name. One of my hobbies is collecting words that set up unreasonable expectations for the phrases to which they belong — like the “carousel” in “baggage carousel,” the “plaza” in “toll plaza,” and the “marathon” in “Law & Order: SVU marathon.” But by far the “super” in “supercommittee” belongs at the top of the list. “Super” implies that the committee, once we turn our backs, is capable of scaling the budget deficit in a single bound and resolving the crisis faster than a speeding bullet — all possibly in spandex. It conjures up a vision of the Justice League or the Avengers settled around a large table melting budget overages with their eyes, or just having Nick Fury glower at it until it wilts and skulks away.

But it’s all in the second word. There’s a reason they don’t call the Justice League the Super Committee. Usually they say that there are two ways of doing nothing about something: to do nothing, and to form a committee to study the problem. And Supercommittee isn’t even its real name. By day, people address it as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which is depressingly unprepossessing, but probably no worse than Hensarling! Murray! Baucus! Becerra! Camp! Clyburn! Kerry! Kyl! Portman! Toomey! Upton! Van Hollen! United! even with the exclamation points.

But none of this is a reason to lose hope. After all, they still have twelve hours until their deadline. This, as any college student worth his/her/post-gendered possessive salt can tell you, is the most productive time! This is when you make a good playlist, settle down with a bag of fruit snacks, and begin typing as though there were no tomorrow. Why are the committee members already appearing on television to cast blame for their failure? That’s like sending your professor the excuse-filled email (“After my dog’s and great aunt’s simultaneous deaths last night in a freak, Jane-Austen-related accident, it seemed somehow wrong to continue with the paper”) before the assignment was even due!

No, if college taught me anything, it is that if we lock the super committee in a room with some espresso and turn off its WiFi, it can still finish this. So I’m astounded that the committee seems already to have thrown in the towel.

Procrastination is a powerful thing. “I love deadlines,” the humorous science fiction writer Douglas Adams used to say, “I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” Even God misses deadlines — look how many times He/She/Post-Gendered Deity Pronoun was Absolutely Supposed to come back and wipe out the Earth, yet managed not to show. It takes serious discipline to finish things on time.

And after all, as everyone suddenly realized after all those months of insisting that Failure Is Not An Option, if the committee fails, the world will not end. Neither the sky nor the debt ceiling will come tumbling down. The cuts won’t go into effect until January 2013, long after the Mayans have returned and harrowed the earth.* But perhaps we shouldn’t let it off the hook so easily. After all, we have some time until Congress was supposed to vote on the proposed measures. “We’ll wait,” Congress can say. “Just get it to us by December something.”

And if there’s some rule against that, there might not be a rule against changing what the committee’s supposed to supply us with. “Anyone can do any amount of work provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at the time,” states Benchley’s Productivity Principle. Perhaps, instead of requiring the committee to come up with a viable plan to cut the deficit, we could require them to come up with a list of thirty reasons it was the other committee members’ fault. It’s counterintuitive, but it just might work. Maybe they’d surprise us. “Hey,” they’d announce. “We got sort of stuck after number fifteen, so we came up with some serious and responsible budget cuts.”

They just need to make a good playlist, shut off the Internet, and help themselves to some Red Bull, and I am confident that we can get through this.

*For loyal readers, yes, I am aware that I used this last week, but it’s just how I tell time now.

By  |  12:44 PM ET, 11/21/2011

Tags:  Supercommittee, come on!

 
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