July 29, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

On Schedules and the Pity of the Deficit Panel

If Congress were ready to engage in serious debate, if not action, on these vital problems, I would not get exorcised over a harmless symbolic move, if an unnecessary and gratuitous one. But the schedule Cantor has set out for next year, following on this year’s — with fewer days in session than any previous Congress in memory, with an increasing disregard for the schedule in the other body (a disregard shared by the Senate) — shows that the idea of debate and deliberation has been thrown out the window.

Along with it goes any hope that Members of Congress will spend time together, get to work together face to face and maybe even find common ground. The best word I can find for Tuesday’s issue and the broader approach to governing is frivolous.

* * * * *

I cannot leave today’s column without a few more words on the super committee.

Many commentators (including Roll Call’s Stan Collender) have noted that if it fails, the sky will not fall, at least not immediately. The sequesters that would be triggered do not take effect until 2013, after all.

Here is the starker reality. Failure to reach a broad agreement won’t trigger sequesters even in 2013. The history of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings is that threats to wreak mayhem and havoc unless Congress does the tough budget things are idle threats; when faced with mayhem, Congress finds a way out.

It won’t take long, after the wreckage on Nov. 23, for savvy analysts to realize that — meaning after all the economic turmoil and anger at Washington, we will not achieve even a halfway or quarter-way measure to resolve our long-term debt problem. The result will be further downgrades, at minimum, when it is clear the system is so dysfunctional that an unprecedented opportunity, via a panel that can write a major bill to solve huge problems and get automatic, expedited, up-or-down votes in both chambers, is thwarted by short-sighted partisans.

Surely, the likes of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Co-Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) can see that working with the likes of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Co-Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) — who have opened the door with promises to take on the entitlement challenge — is doable and urgently needed.

Surely, they and their colleagues recognize that this is a defining moment for their careers (not to mention how their obituaries that will be read by their children will be written).

But of course I write the word “surely” even as I am anything but sure that, even with the urgent need and incredible opportunity, these lawmakers can overcome the party imperatives and ideological litmus tests.

I will repeat what I wrote some weeks ago to these 12: Why are you doing public service? Why are you here? If it is not to solve big problems but to be good partisan soldiers, maybe you should find something else to do with your lives.

Norman Ornstein is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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