Could the debt supercommittee fail even if it succeeds?
Last month, we took a look at one way that might happen: If the special bipartisan panel charged with trimming the debt by at least $1.2 trillion drafts a plan comprised of accounting gimmicks, then it could end up being worse for the U.S. credit rating than no plan at all, according to some independent analysts.
But there’s a second way that the committee could fail, one that could be even more politically devastating for members of Congress: The panel could produce a debt-reduction plan, only for one (or both) chambers to shoot it down when it comes up for a floor vote before Dec. 23.
The outlook for such a scenario depends on whom you ask – and even leaders on Capitol Hill have varied perspectives on the matter.
Asked earlier this week whether the supercommittee might produce a plan only to see it defeated on the floor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) dismissed the possibility outright, noting that the August debt-ceiling deal allows the legislation to be fast-tracked through both chambers on a simple majority vote and with no amendments allowed.
“Oh, if they come out with something, it’ll pass,” Reid said of the supercommittee. “It’ll only take a simple majority.”
But Reid’s No. 2, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), said Wednesday that he believes that there’s a “real possibility” that one or both chambers might reject whatever deal the debt supercommittee sends them.
“I hope it wouldn’t be the case, but let’s be honest,” Durbin told reporters after a news conference in the Senate Press Gallery. “There will be people who won’t like any agreement, whether it cuts their programs or raises taxes they don’t think should be raised.”
“There’s going to be controversy associated with it, I know that much,” he added.
Some members this week argued that it was premature to even consider what a floor vote on the supercommittee’s recommendations might look like, since the panel – which has a Nov. 23 deadline -- hasn’t even reached agreement on the outlines of a potential deal.
“You know, I don’t think that was discussed,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said Wednesday after a closed-door meeting of Senate Republicans at which the supercommittee’s work was among the issues addressed. “I think at this point it’s just a question of, ‘Can these guys actually agree on something?’ And hoping that they will. I don’t think anybody’s even given any consideration that what might happen on a vote if and when they produce that final product.”
There are sound arguments to be made on both sides of the issue.
Those who contend that neither chamber would reject the supercommittee’s recommendations point out that if the panel does reach an agreement, it would likely be a deal that passes with the support of at least weight or nine of the group’s 12 members, as opposed to one backed by only seven members. That means that the deal would be bipartisan enough to pass both chambers with significant support from both parties.
Those who believe Congress wouldn’t reject a deal also note that the supercommittee members are in close contact with the party leaders who tapped them to serve on the panel in the first place, and that those leaders – all of whom have said publicly that “failure is not an option” – would be unlikely to let the committee pass something that they didn’t believe would receive the support of their respective caucuses.
On top of all that, there would be the optics of either chamber of Congress voting to reject a bipartisan debt-reduction deal – a moment that could rival the September 2008 House TARP vote, in terms of both public opinion toward Congress and the reaction of the financial markets.
Those who argue that rejection of a debt-reduction deal by Congress is a real possibility point to several other measures so far this Congress that have unexpectedly come up short, such as the House’s rejection in September of a government funding resolution and the failure in February of an extension of key Patriot Act provisions.
And unlike previous bipartisan measures, such as last spring’s stopgap government funding resolutions and the August debt ceiling deal, any supercommittee deal will be out in the open for longer than just a couple of days before it’s up for a vote: there’s one month between the Nov. 23 supercommittee deadline and the Dec. 23 deadline by which Congress must vote on a deal.
That means a whole month for those who may be opposed to a bipartisan deal – both inside and outside of the Capitol – to mobilize against the plan and potentially put pressure on members to vote “no.”
With less than two weeks until the panel’s deadline, expect the supercommittee negotiations – as well as speculation about what happens after a deal is reached – to ramp up when both chambers return next Monday.