The co-chairs of the Super Committee, Patty Murray and Jeb Hensarling, quietly admitted defeat today, in an official statement. I will reproduce it below in full.
“After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline.
“Despite our inability to bridge the committee’s significant differences, we end this process united in our belief that the nation’s fiscal crisis must be addressed and that we cannot leave it for the next generation to solve. We remain hopeful that Congress can build on this committee’s work and can find a way to tackle this issue in a way that works for the American people and our economy.
“We are deeply disappointed that we have been unable to come to a bipartisan deficit reduction agreement, but as we approach the uniquely American holiday of Thanksgiving, we want to express our appreciation to every member of this committee, each of whom came into the process committed to achieving a solution that has eluded many groups before us. Most importantly, we want to thank the American people for sharing thoughts and ideas and for providing support and good will as we worked to accomplish this difficult task.
“We would also like to thank our committee staff, in particular Staff Director Mark Prater and Deputy Staff Director Sarah Kuehl, as well as each committee member’s staff for the tremendous work they contributed to this effort. We would also like to express our sincere gratitude to Dr. Douglas Elmendorf and Mr. Thomas Barthold and their teams at the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation, respectively, for the technical support they provided to the committee and its members.”
The deadline was technically Wednesday, but the recommendation had to be made public for 48 hours before a vote, so that made the practical deadline today.
The Super Committee was a terrible, anti-democratic idea based on the notion that 12 legislators could be compelled to reach agreement for an entire Congress, and be given a fast-track process to implement that agreement without input from the other 523 elected members of Congress. Its defeat is actually a triumph of democracy, because it signals that the people can still impact a closed process of elites. The emergence of Occupy Wall Street along with the President’s unveiling of the American Jobs Act changed the conversation in the country and de-fanged the media bias toward budget deficits.
In the end, however, there was no reason for a deal. Democrats and Republicans both believe that the ensuing trigger of automatic cuts protects their priorities, and they believe that they will have the upper hand in the 2012 elections on issues that could have been decided by the Super Committee. You can see this in Harry Reid’s response to the demise of the Super Committee, where he tries to paint Democrats as the holders of the sensible center:
The American people are tired of their elected leaders listening to the extreme voices in their party instead of the voices of reason. I am disappointed that Republicans never found the courage to ignore Tea Party extremists and millionaire lobbyists like Grover Norquist, and listen instead to the overwhelming majority of Americans – including the vast majority of Republicans – who want a balanced approach to deficit reduction. For the good of our country, Democrats were prepared to strike a grand bargain that would make painful cuts while asking millionaires to pay their fair share, and we put our willingness on paper. But Republicans never came close to meeting us halfway.
Instead, Republicans relentlessly sought to end Medicare as we know it by privatizing the program and putting seniors and future generations at the mercy of insurance companies. In addition, Republicans insisted on expanding President Bush’s tax giveaways to millionaires, an approach that would have made our deficit problems bigger, not smaller, while increasing the gap between the top one percent of taxpayers and everyone else.
The Republican story of the demise will be the flip side: Democrats wanted to take money from the job creators and tank the economy and weren’t serious about “reforming” entitlements that will bankrupt the country. You can read this script from memory. In fact, you’ll hear it every day between now and the election. And then, voters will make the decision on which way to go. Because we have a ridiculous legislative system, that mandate won’t necessarily translate into action. But at least the public will have input by virtue of who they elect to represent them.
Reid also said something important, that he would oppose “any efforts to change or roll back the sequester,” aka the trigger of automatic cuts. There’s a lot of talk about that right now, and that will dominate discussion for the next year. The cuts are painful and arguably front-loaded, and will have a major impact if the economy doesn’t fully recover by 2013, when they would take effect. In the near term, the expiring stimulus measures, which run out in six weeks, are the main potential fiscal drag on the economy (and no, I don’t think they were pre-ordained to be extended by a Super Committee agreement). Over the next year, the sequester will provide a fiscal drag of its own. Combined with the $900 billion in cuts from the spending cap, you’re talking about over $2 trillion of austerity, which really will start to hurt in 2012 and especially come 2013. It’s not clear the economy will be ready.