Is the much-anticipated congressional "super committee" looking at ways to reduce the federal deficit going to produce anything of value? If you believe the latest Washington rumors it’s not bloody likely. Though it has conducted most of its work away from the prying eyes of the public, published reports indicate it has been ground zero for Washington’s lobbying community which, no doubt, has been working overtime to make sure that its pet programs, loopholes, and subsidies are spared the axe.
The papers have, nonetheless, been full of rumors about what the committee might propose. Some members of Congress, mostly Democrats, are arguing for tax increases. Others, mostly Republicans, want to see dramatic cuts in federal spending. Some suggest the committee may offer up a plan that sharply reduces the number of deductions and credits available to business, possibly in exchange for an overall reduction in the corporate tax rate. It has also been suggested the committee will come up with a package that curtails the value of certain personal and business tax deductions, targeted at high-income wage earners.
On Thursday, 72 House Republicans sent a letter to members of the super-committee—formally known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction—urging them not to raise taxes. "Tax increases aren’t going to get our economy back on the right track," North Carolina GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry said. "We need real solutions to address runaway spending. Raising taxes will only further damage the economy, discourage private sector investment, and hurt Americans struggling to make ends meet." Meanwhile, those who think "deep thoughts" about economic policy have used the super committee as an excuse to entertain in public all sorts of ideas about what to do to the tax code and ways to curtail spending.
No one can agree on what is going on. The one thing they do agree on is that, for the moment at least, things are deadlocked along party lines.
Neither fish nor fowl, the super committee was created as part of the package giving President Barack Obama the increase in the federal debt limit he so desperately wanted. If the committee fails to make a report, or if the report is rejected by Congress, then what has been variously described as "draconian" across-the-board cuts in spending—in both defense and non-defense spending—are scheduled to take place.
From the beginning the whole process has been flawed—and subjected to intense criticism which continues up to this day. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who recently vaulted to the top of the pack of Republicans seeking the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, attacked the process Thursday saying, "We are watching the current Congress repeat every mistake the Democrats made ramming through an unread stimulus bill and Obamacare."
"Secret negotiations among a handful of members will lead to a gigantic bill no one understands. That bill will then move to an up or down vote with no hearings, no understanding, and no amendments," Gingrich said. "The idea of a $4 trillion tax and spending bill being rammed through congress with no hearings, no markups, no expert analysis, no citizen participation is exactly wrong."
What Gingrich wants, and not without good reason, is for Congress to disband the super committee, return to regular order, and ask every subcommittee and committee to do their job out "in the open, in public, with the understanding and participation of the American people." It’s a sentiment that many people share and may prove, once and for all, that Bismarck was wrong, at least as far as the demands of a free and democratic society are concerned.