In fact, this process was almost exactly what many people have asked for over the years because it put a Base Closure and Realignment Commission-like procedure in place that would have eliminated the standard legislative juggernaut that, among other things, makes deficit reduction so much more difficult.
If the committee had been able to come up with something, it would have been considered quickly by Congress, no filibusters would have been possible and the only thing allowed would have been an up-or-down vote in both chambers. That’s as close to a BRAC-like process that is ever going to be available on the budget, and it didn’t change the outcome of the debate in the slightest.
This should be the ultimate lesson for all of those who say the federal budget problem would be solved if we just had a (check as many of the following as you think apply) line-item veto, balanced budget amendment, modern-day version of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, tax increase limit, spending as a percent of gross domestic product limit, supermajority requirements for something or God knows what else. The super committee process didn’t fail because it was flawed but because there never was a consensus about what to do or how to do it.
Third, making the automatic spending cuts, which were triggered when the committee failed, part of the deal may have been a terrible mistake by those who were serious about deficit reduction.
Including a Plan B was probably needed to get the votes to pass the debt ceiling increase, but having the fallback in place actually made it easier for the committee to collapse. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of its inability to agree on anything, some members of the committee and others in Congress said the process shouldn’t be seen as a failure because, thanks to the sequester, spending will be cut anyway.
The committee would have been under far more pressure to compromise if there had been no Plan B and its failure would have meant that absolutely nothing would have happened other than the debt ceiling being raised. No one would have been able to take any solace in a backup plan, and everyone on Capitol Hill would have had far more explaining to do to financial markets and constituents.
Stan Collender is a partner at Qorvis Communications and founder of the blog Capital Gains and Games. He is also the author of “The Guide to the Federal Budget.”