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Post Leadership
Posted at 03:43 PM ET, 08/11/2011

The Super Congress: A difficult dozen


Panel is divided evenly among Democrats, Republicans. (AP)
The so-called suppercommittee is set, now that Nancy Pelosi has named three Democratic House members to bring the total to 12. With each new announcement, analysts and political pundits are picking apart the choices. Are the Democrats chosen too moderate? Who funds these people? Is there a lack of Tea Party representation?

While all these things matter—this may be the most important bipartisan committee Washington has tried to assemble in decades—I think the biggest question should be this one: Why are there so many of them?

The deficit talks led by Vice President Joe Biden leading up to the ceiling deal were supposed to have 16 members—but after both sides thought that would be unwieldy, they reduced it to six. And we all know how well that number of people works out in negotiations. Not only did the six-member Biden talks fail to produce a winning agreement that was approved by Congress; so did the so-called Gang of Six.

Granted, the stakes are much higher this time. If the panel fails to reach an agreement to cut the deficit by another $1.5 trillion, steep cuts would go into place designed to be anathema for each of the two parties. Some analysts believe the makeup of the committee provides a decent chance for success, with each chamber leader choosing “a likely deal-maker, an ideological force and a swing vote,” writes Politico’s Jonathan Allen. And I understand that each party and each chamber needed representation, and that there remains the possibility that more people can lead to more diverse ideas.

Perhaps one or any of those forces will bring about a fair and workable agreement. But overcoming 12 people’s individual commitments to special interests, constituency needs, party allegiances and personal campaign promises is sure to be a huge challenge for finding common ground. The more people there are in the room, the more complex the negotiations are likely to become.

The Post’s Ezra Klein made a similar point today, noting that “in general, the only thing that's worked—and it hasn't worked particularly well—are negotiations between the leadership of the two parties.” His position: The committee’s success depends less on the individual members, and more on whether the two parties’ leadership supports the deal. I agree, though would add that the dozen members in the room and their competing priorities and interests could make the problem even worse.

I know, of course, why they’re not putting Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner in a room together to duke this out. The partisanship and divisiveness in the room would be so bad that an agreement seems impossible, not to mention few of the four might actually come out alive. Still, if party leadership has to sign off on this anyways, and if more people could make already complex negotiations even more convoluted, the so-called supercommittee is yet another sad and telling example of how we can’t we expect our leaders to lead.

More from On Leadership:

Paul O’Neill: Only the president can restart America’s engine

Bill George:Enough talk about jobs—where’s the action?

Michael Useem: Revising investor capitalism’s mantra

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By  |  03:43 PM ET, 08/11/2011

 
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