Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why the Supercommittee Failed

As we discussed in an earlier post, the incentives were simply not present to cause the supercommittee to make any hard choices or come up with any innovative solutions, whether on a "Grand Bargain," the $1.2 trillion sequestration or even a smaller step towards fiscal sanity.

But some other, parallel reasons existed for its failure and they're cogently explained in this post today by Ron Elving,  the senior Washington editor for NPR News.  The full post is at

. . .  a democratically elected government is not a business. There is no business strategy, no business model and only limited agreement on what "the business" ought to be doing. Instead, the component parts of the business function independently and often at odds with each other. The analogy, in short, does not work.

So the dozen people on the deficit panel reverted in the end to the self-protective behaviors that characterize politicians under pressure. Realizing their various constituencies would be better off in the short run without a compromise requiring sacrifice of everyone, the two sides elected to punt. The plans they submitted to each other were more about conflict than compromise.
That is exactly the same dynamic that has kept Congress from doing anything productive about the deficit since the year 2000 . . . 
The problem at base is that the country has been told too many pleasant lies and too few uncomfortable truths by both its major political parties. It is not possible to go on having all the government we're used to (including entitlements and half the world's total defense spending) and blithely send the bill to somebody else (either in the present or the future). It can't continue and it won't.
. . .
Both parties act as though they can blame the other, striving to please constituencies that insist they do so. Yet, few achievements in American history have been so bipartisan as the national debt.
It took two centuries to reach $1 trillion and became a major campaign issue for Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980. In the three decades that followed, the debt rose from $1 trillion to $12 trillion. During that period, Republicans were in the White House two-thirds of the time. Both chambers of Congress had Democratic majorities for 12 years, Republican majorities for 10 years and 6 months and divided control for 7 years and 6 months.

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