The partisans win! The Supercommittee has failed. Gridlock is tighter than ever. The rich won’t have to pay an extra dime in taxes, and the retirees can rest assured that no one will touch their pensions.
But if you’re the head of a national park, or in charge of handing out federal grants for a science R&D program, or trying to repair crumbling bridges on federal roads, or working on a federal program to help improve schools and childhood nutrition, you’re hosed. [You’re probably hosed if you’re in the military, too, but the GOP may block the military cuts.]
Those who cheer the failure (such as the two Pauls, Ron and Krugman) will make the point that no deal is better than whatever raw deal was likely to come out of the Supercommittee. But it’s worth remembering a couple of facts about this committee.
First, it had unusual power to make something happen. Its proposals would have gotten a straight up-or-down vote in Congress, which means there couldn’t be filibustering (and the 60-vote requirement to invoke cloture) in the Senate, nor could there be amendments and riders and earmarks and such foolishness, and there wouldn’t be two rival versions, House and Senate, that would be vulnerable to shenanigans in the conference committee. This thing came with fast-track authority.
So we now default to the usual order of business, which, as you’ve seen, has been chronically dysfunctional.
This failure comes with consequences. Under the deal that lifted the debt ceiling, a Supercommittee failure requires $1.2 trillion in cuts via sequestration, half in defense and half in non-security domestic programs. How that will be carried out is unclear to me (I’m reliably told OMB will have the power to dictate the cuts). McCain wants to undo the automatic cuts to defense. Entitlements and pensions are almost entirely exempt (there can be some small cuts in Medicare reimbursements to providers), as are certain programs that help the poorest Americans, such as food security and Pell grants.
But everything else can get whacked — all the other things that the federal government does.
It’s true that these programs might have gotten cut under any Supercommittee deal. But it’s now a certainty that they’re the losers in this whole thing. They lost three months ago, when Congress passed the law that extended the debt ceiling and established the Supercommittee. Democrats, please note: Cordoning off entitlements effectively ensured that harsher cuts would have to be felt by the programs that rely on discretionary spending. And the Republicans got their way: The debt-ceiling deal called for no new taxes, not even on millionaires.
Who loses the most with Supercommittee failure? Same folks as always: Americans too young to vote.