Most of the postmortem analyses of the super-bust committee’s entirely predictable but nonetheless impressive crash-and-burn last week so far has mostly been nothing more than after-the-fact spin by the participants. Here’s what you actually need to know to understand what didn’t happen and why:
First, this never really was about reducing the deficit, so the fact that the anything-but-super committee didn’t succeed at doing that shouldn’t have surprised anyone.
The committee, the expedited legislative process that would have been used had it come up with something, the Nov. 23 deadline and the automatic spending cut if the process collapsed were all created so that House and Senate Republicans and Democrats could vote for an increase in the federal debt ceiling this past summer. At best, reducing the budget deficit would have been a bonus to getting past that impasse.
If you have any doubts about this, look at the parts of the agreement that have and haven’t worked.
The increase in the debt ceiling that was needed to avoid the cash crunch that was expected in early August took place as soon as the Budget Control Act was signed into law. No committee had to agree on anything for that to happen: It was automatic and immediate.
In addition, the process that is allowing the subsequent debt ceiling increases the Treasury says are needed has worked so well that the additional government borrowing that was such an inflammatory and hyperbolic issue then has become all but invisible now.
That’s a political success by virtually every standard.
In contrast, the deficit reduction procedures in the agreement either have already broken down completely or are likely to be substantially modified so that their effect is far less than was promised.
While the debt ceiling was increased instantly, the automatic spending cut was designed so that it wouldn’t go into effect until more than a year after the committee process failed.
That may be the best indication of all that deficit reduction was not anything close to the main purpose of the deal.
In addition, not only was the committee (I’ve run out of adjectives to say that “super” was and is wholly inappropriate) unable to agree on anything, but there are now more than just rumbles from Capitol Hill and demands from industries and voters that the automatic spending cuts be delayed, revised or completely canceled.
That should make you wonder why the Budget Control Act didn’t include a super-majority requirement for any changes in the sequester. If proposed balanced budget amendments to the Constitution include super-majority requirements to raise revenues, it’s more than curious why someone didn’t demand that more than a simple majority of both chambers be required to cancel or modify the spending cuts that would occur if the committee process failed.
All of this adds up to one conclusion: Now that the debt ceiling has been raised, the deficit reduction included in the deal to get the borrowing limit raised was —and still is — largely beside the point and could very well not happen.
Second, the committee’s failure demonstrated once and for all that the budget process is not the problem.