According to the latest plans, committee members would only have a few months to complete the job, and when — if — they approve a final set of cuts, the rest of Congress would be given a simple choice: take them or leave them.
Sounds simple, right? But there is a problem with this idea: Similar “super” working-groups have been tried before — and they haven’t always delivered super results. In fact, one of the few things that will make the committee’s job easier is that a lot of the ground has already been covered.
“I know people roll their eyes and say, ‘Oh, another commission. Really?’” Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) said on the Senate floor last week. But she said this one could deliver results: “If we have a finite end date and have the opportunity to make more real cuts, it is worth another chance.”
But this may be not so much a chance than another gamble.
Approach is a gamble
“They tend not to work,” said Sarah Binder, a historian of Congress at George Washington University. The problem, Binder said, is that the factors that keep the whole Congress from solving hard problems usually reappear in a smaller committee.
“The same conflict that leads to the creation of these groups,” Binder said, “gets replicated in those groups.”
The two parties have both acknowledged that this super-committee process could fail. In fact, one of the main points of contention has been what to do if the committee itself can’t agree — or if Congress rejects the committee’s ideas.
But Republicans and Democrats have touted the committee as the best option left. Plans call for the committee members to be chosen by the leaders of each party in both the House and Senate. Those 12 would be required to do what Congress as a whole could not accomplish during months of bickering: find ways to cut more than $1 trillion from the federal budget deficit.
That, more or less, is the task that Congress has been working on for months now — since the Republican landslide in the fall election shifted Washington’s attention to budget cuts. The 12 legislators on the super committee would be required to succeed where their colleagues have failed. And do it by Nov. 23.
After that, their recommendations would be presented to the rest of Congress. The two chambers would be allowed only a vote — no amendments or other changes.
The model, legislators have said, is the Base Realignment and Closure process, in which an outside commission recommends a list of military base closures to Congress and legislators have only the power to approve or reject the entire list.