Last week’s Fiscal Fitness asked what would happen if the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction — the super committee that has yet to demonstrate in any way that the name is appropriate — failed? In case you don’t remember, the answer was — and still is — not much, and very possibly nothing at all.
This week’s Fiscal Fitness addresses the parallel question that seems to be much on the minds of true believers of the process, especially those who went out of their way to let me know their thoughts after last week’s column was published: Why does anyone think the super committee has to succeed?
Those who are wishing, hoping and praying for the super committee’s success seem to be basing their reasoning on four things.
First, super committee supporters say that voters won’t forgive Congress if the end result of the process is that the deficit isn’t reduced as promised.
Second, they insist that members of the committee will be embarrassed (their word, not mine) if they fail to agree on some type of deficit reduction plan.
Third, they say Congress as a whole will be embarrassed if the House and Senate fail to pass what the super committee approves and reports. They almost immediately add that the embarrassment will be significantly magnified because of all the other budget-related failures that have occurred during the past year. This includes the repeated threats of government shutdowns and the close-to-the-edge approval of a debt ceiling increase.
Fourth, true believers typically say with great passion that Wall Street will downgrade U.S. debt again if the super committee fails. This reason was repeated often during the past week after Merrill Lynch said a further downgrade was likely if the super committee process didn’t result in a deficit reduction plan being enacted.
I just don’t see it.
Let’s start with voters. Contrary to what the true blues say, the deficit reduction proposals the committee would have to recommend to make more than a token reduction in the deficit will be extremely unpopular. The polls continue to be as definitive on this issue as they have been for more than a decade: While a majority of Americans want spending reduced, they typically don’t support cuts in any part of the budget other than foreign aid. The polls also show that Americans don’t want taxes raised unless the increase is imposed on someone else.
That makes the argument that voters will be angry if nothing happens hard to believe. In fact, unless the polling on the federal budget has been consistently wrong, voter anger will be far greater if the super committee agrees to a deficit reduction plan that includes changes in Medicare, Medicaid, military spending and taxes than if there’s no agreement at all.