Presumably, Congress will soon find a permanent solution to the austerity that will keep the economy growing (or perhaps even speed it up a bit) next year while addressing the longer-term debt problem. That will be the end of this sorry period in American politics, in which Congress continuously set up ever-more draconian consequences to incent its future self to make the hard decisions its current self kept putting off.
If you want a perfect illustration of the dysfunction afflicting Washington today, you don’t have to look any further than the “sequester.”
But let’s not call it the “sequester.” That’s a name chosen because no one understands what it means, which is helpful for Congress, which doesn’t want anyone to understand the awful thing they’ve done. Let’s call it what it is: The big, dumb spending cuts that no one wants.
It’s not exaggerating to say that the entire theory of the supercommittee rests on the presumed fear of the trigger. If the two parties fear the trigger, they have a reason to make a deal. If they don’t fear the trigger, then there’s no reason that this committee should be expected to do any better than any of the other bipartisan deficit-reduction committees we’ve seen over the last two years. And the other committees have all failed.
But right now, there has never been less fear of the trigger. Even Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the Republican co-chair of the supercommittee, is talking about modifying it in the event the supercommittee can’t come to an agreement. By doing that, he’s making it less likely that the supercommittee does come to an agreement, which might say something about how much Republicans actually want this process to succeed.
Hensarling’s office did not respond to a request for comment, but other offices involved in this process did. And they made a fair point: The trigger might be harder to defuse than people think. In fact, it might be almost as hard as coming to a deal in the first place.
Want to learn about the plight of unemployed workers during the Great Depression? Head to Amazon.com and order John Steinbeck’s Depression-era epic, “The Grapes of Wrath.” Want to learn about the plight of workers during our own Lesser Depression? Head over to Amazon’s warehouse in Lehigh, Pa., and watch them prepare your book for shipping.
We’re all supposed to breathe a sigh of relief this morning. Last night, Senate leaders struck a deal that is likely to avert a government shutdown. But some in the chamber aren’t so impressed. As one fed-up senator told me last week, the United States has a lot of problems to solve, and yet success in today’s Congress constitutes simply keeping the lights on.
This week’s shutdown threat was perhaps the most absurd yet. In most budget battles, the two parties are separated by many billions of dollars. Earlier this year, for instance, the compromise budget that averted a shutdown cut $78.5 billion from the president’s budget request. In this debate, however, the parties were separated by a mere $1.6 billion. The fact is that the preparations for — and certainly the reality of — a shutdown probably would have dwarfed the difference between the two bills.
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John B. Judis • The New Republic • October 2011
When he talks about the American Jobs Act, President Obama employs a simple refrain: “Pass this bill!” He used some variant of that a dozen times in his speech announcing the legislation.
But when it came time this week for the president to talk about his deficit-reduction proposal, three words were notably absent from the pitch. He never said “Pass this bill.” In part, that’s because he’s not offering a bill; he’s submitting a proposal to Congress’ Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. But it’s also because there is no chance that a bill resembling Obama’s proposal will pass.