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Why the super committee cannot fail

Armstrong Williams | 3/21/2013, 12:08 p.m.
Novembers during off-election years in Washington, D.C., are typically pretty serene. The autumn colors stream...
At Thanksgiving, embracing the winds of change and increasing our faith

Novembers during off-election years in Washington, D.C., are typically pretty serene. The autumn colors stream up and down Georgetown by the Potomac, while lawmakers gingerly ease into the holidays, knowing full well the next year will have them in complete campaign mode. Not so for 2011.

In their infinite wisdom following a contentious budget showdown just a few months prior, Congress and the White House silently swore they didn't want to face that political debacle again. So, 523 elected "responsible" lawmakers surrendered their roles as committee chairs, appropriations cardinals and oversight hawks to an intrepid 12 colleagues to begin the work they so eagerly avoided. That shifting sound you hear is our Founding Fathers turning over in their graves.

The die is cast. And for reasons I will explain, there is ample evidence that leads to but one conclusion. For the good of the Congress, the president, and the nation writ large, this band of 12 cannot fail.

To be clear: It's entirely possible the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction can fail to meet its mandated purpose of recommending reductions from $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion from the federal budget by Thanksgiving. That's a tall order. But they must not fail if we expect our governing institutions to retain what little credibility that remains among them.

The first casualty of an empty super committee is our nation's economic health. Set aside for the moment the sheer need for austerity. If the panel were to miss its mark, economic chaos could ensue. Moody's Investor Service has already lowered our nation's stellar credit rating. And just last week, the credit house said that, while no downgrade is automatic, the super committee would serve it and Congress well by tackling big budget busters such as entitlement reform. Put another way, Congress should get out of its own way.

Not long ago, Democrats led by the president blamed consumer demand as the key inhibitor to economic growth in 2011. Republicans then piled on and said it was looming uncertainty that paralyzed investors and businesses alike, freezing precious capital. Obama even later subscribed to that reasoning. So why is it now, when both parties clearly have their fingers on the crux of the matter, they are singularly responsible for that very uncertainty and yet refuse to execute the steps to end it?

Another reason why failure would hurt the entire process is that the alternative isn't that calamitous. If the super committee is incapable of moving its plan through both houses of Congress, then the fallback plan that automatically triggers a modest $1.2 trillion cut by all accounts pales in comparison. Let's be serious, every interest group in Washington is running around both privately and publicly declaring that the so-called backstop is far better than anything the deficit panel could produce.

When lawmakers designed the sequestered amount, they didn't envision a $1.2 trillion cut as wimpy. (That alone should tell you something about congressional intentions-they fail to grasp the sheer weight of the federal deficit and debt.) The idea behind the "alternative" was to make it so unappealing that the 12 would be forced to reach tough decisions. Now, they can throw up their hands in feigned frustration and let some orphaned amount kick in with little repercussion.