One key member of the committee said that the consequences of failure were never imminent enough to move the sides toward a compromise.
The fact that the automatic cuts resulting from the panel’s failure would not kick in until 2013 was a key barrier to a deal, said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “I think it made it easier to avoid making some of the tougher decisions,” he told reporters Monday.
Now the committee is dead, but each side has a new dream to cling to: that the elections of 2012 will help solve the problems that the “supercommittee,” and the entire Congress before it, were unable to fix.
But these new dreams are grounded in the same partisanship that doomed the supercommittee. Both parties are hoping for enough wins in 2012 to be able to pass their own deficit-cutting plan without having to compromise with the other side.
What seems more likely, observers say, is more divided government, requiring even more compromise.
“The country is severely divided. That almost certainly means a closely divided Congress, and that means more difficulties,” predicted Lee Hamilton, a Democrat who served in Congress for 34 years and now is the director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University.
As the committee’s failure went from apparent to official on Monday, the parties turned to the election.
On the presidential campaign trail, GOP candidates said the solution is to replace President Obama. “Our president has had no involvement in the process,” said former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (a claim the White House disputed Monday). “I find that extraordinary.”
The supercommittee’s demise could have been scripted at its beginning in August. The problem was taxes. Democrats wanted higher rates for the wealthy if entitlements were to be cut. Republicans said that would be a recipe for economic stagnation.
The only thing the committee could agree on, at the end, was a 270-word statement, issued by the co-chairmen, that said they’d given up.
“We end this process united in our belief that the nation’s fiscal crisis must be addressed,” said the two people charged with addressing it.
The committee, created after the summer’s debt-ceiling crisis, began with bipartisan pledges of hard work and open minds. “This committee has the opportunity to show the American people we can still come together, put politics aside and solve a problem plaguing our country,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), one of the two co-chairmen, at the group’s first meeting.
Members spent hours sequestered in an underground room in the Capitol Visitor Center, and more hours in small groups in one another’s offices. But aides said these conversations often circled, again and again, around problems of taxes and spending.