Super Committee Super Deadlocked

Not surprisingly, the "Super Committee" to deal with the deficit isn't making much progress.

Not surprisingly, the Joint Select Committee On The Deficit apparently isn’t making much progress:

The supercommittee is struggling.

After weeks of secret meetings, the 12-member deficit-cutting panel established under last summer’s budget and debt deal appears no closer to a breakthrough than when talks began last month.

While the panel members themselves aren’t doing much talking, other lawmakers, aides and lobbyists closely tracking the committee are increasingly skeptical, even pessimistic, that the panel will be able to meet its assigned goal of at least $1.2 trillion in deficit savings over the next 10 years.

The reason? A familiar deadlock over taxes and cuts to major programs like Medicare and the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled.

Democrats won’t go for an agreement that doesn’t include lots of new tax revenue; Republicans are just as ardently anti-tax. The impasse over revenues means that Democrats won’t agree to cost curbs on popular entitlement programs like Medicare.

“Fairness has to be a prerequisite for it,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “We have just come through passing a bill that was (all spending) cuts, no revenue.” Pelosi was referring to the August debt limit bill, which set tight “caps” on agency budgets but didn’t contain revenue increases pressed by Democrats.

Democrats are more insistent on revenues now.

“There’s been no movement on revenues and I’m not sure the Democrats will agree to anything without revenues,” added a Democratic lobbyist who required anonymity to speak candidly.

Asked last week whether she is confident that the panel can hit its $1.2 trillion goal, co-chairman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., sidestepped the question.

“I am confident that the public is watching us very closely to see if we can show this country that this democracy can work,” Murray told reporters. “I carry that weight on my shoulders every day and so does every member of this committee.”

The two parties have equal strength on the panel, which has until Thanksgiving to come up with a plan to submit for up-or-down House and Senate votes in December. That means bipartisan compromise is a prerequisite for a successful result.

Thus far, say aides to panel members and other lawmakers, neither side has demonstrated the required flexibility in the super-secret talks.

In other words, it’s Washington operating as usual and, as I said, nothing to be surprised about. On some level, I agree with Jonathan Bernstein that reports like this are as much about the various sides (and there are probably more than two sides here) fleshing out their arguments and their positions than they are an indication of what might happen in the committee in the end. I’d still say that we’re likely to get something out of the committee by the time all of this is done, the question is whether its something that’s likely to pass both Houses of Congress and get approved by the President.

President Obama has already said that he would veto any plan from the committee that didn’t include tax increases on some income earners, an idea which Speaker John Boehner almost immediately rejected. In the meantime, the deal that the President and Republicans ended up reaching in August arguably already gave the Republicans what they wanted, sizable budget cuts without any tax increases as the price for an increase in the debt ceiling. If the committee is unable to come up with a plan, or if that plan doesn’t pass muster with Congress and the President, then those cuts automatically go into place starting in December. As I noted in December, this arguably means that there really isn’t as much pressure to make a deal as some are thinking, at least not for Republicans:

Yes, there’s been some grousing from conservatives about the level of the defense cuts, but when you really look at it, its clear that the Defense Budget under the automatic cuts actually makes out better than it would have under previous budget projections. If Obama is really making this gamble on the theory that he GOP would rather make a deal that includes tax increases but doesn’t touch entitlements in any significant respects than to let the automatic cuts take place, then I think he’s misreading his opponents yet again.

With more than a month left to go before the deadline kicks in, this is likely just the opening move in a dance that will go on for some time. In the end, though, if one side has already gotten what they want, then what’s the incentive to make a deal?

FILED UNDER: Congress, Deficit and Debt, Democracy, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Bob Jacobson says:

    When you consider the intellectual quality of those who are consistently outmaneuvering the White House, it appears that in the Beltway at least, a bigger brain is no advantage in the current legislative environment. Brute violence wielded against the American social contract appears more adaptive. A strong defense of that social contract might be a creative counter-development, but it appears beyond the conceptual powers of those who might offer it. Has our political system reached an evolutionary dead end?

  2. Hey Norm says:

    What a suprise…the so-called right is talking about cutting taxes as pro-growth. And they are taken seriously. Supply-siders are so cute!!! But they are not serious about the economy, or solving problems.

  3. You’re both missing the point.

    The Super Committee was a dumb idea to begin with. With the automatic cuts already in place and an election coming up, anyone who thought that either side is going to give up the political ground needed to make a real comprehensive deal is being just a little bit naive.

  4. EddieInCA says:

    Doug –

    I think you’re underestimating how much those Defense cuts built into the agreement will piss of the GOP. I don’t think this is as good for Republicans as you seem to think it is.

    Time will tell which of us is right.

  5. Likewise, the Republicans are all assuming the automatic cuts are actually going to occur. Do you think any budget or appropriations bill that reflects the “automatic cuts” can actually pass the President or Senate?

    All that’s going to happen is that in December, everything will bog down again and we’ll realize all the deal reached earlierdid was to kick the can down the road a few months.

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    @Doug Mataconis: It’s rare, but I agree with you on this one Doug. The chance that anything that comes out of the Super Committee can be passed by both the House and Senate and signed by the POTUS is Slim and None and Slim left town.

  7. @EddieInCA:

    I think you’re over-estimating the defense cuts, which are in reality pretty modest:

    Rather than cutting $400 billion in defense spending through 2023, as President Barack Obama had proposed in April, the current debt proposal trims $350 billion through 2024, effectively giving the Pentagon $50 billion more than it had been expecting over the next decade.

    With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, experts said, the overall change in defense spending practices could be minimal: Instead of cuts, the Pentagon merely could face slower growth.

    “This is a good deal for defense when you probe under the numbers,” said Lawrence Korb, a defense expert at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning research center. “It’s better than what the Defense Department was expecting.”

    Given that, and given the growing constituency in the GOP that accepts the idea that defense cuts are inevitable, I don’t think the automatic cuts are as scary for them as some seem to be betting

  8. Hey Norm says:

    @ Doug…
    Well yeah…it was political cover to end the manufactured debt crisis/hostage situation.
    But that doesn’t lessen the ridiculousness of supply-siders.

    Correct me if I’m wrong…but I don’t believe there are any entitlement cuts included in the automatic cuts. $1.2T isn’t even a start on the long-term debt problem. Especially if Republicans win the Senate and the White House, summarily forget their sudden obsession witth the debt, and return to their profligate spending habits.

  9. john personna says:

    I linked to someone expecting the automatic cuts about a month ago, his idea was that both parties want the benefit/pain, or pain/benefit as a campaign issue.

  10. john personna says:

    @Hey Norm:

    It’s some from defense and some from social spending I believe.

  11. ponce says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong…but I don’t believe there are any entitlement cuts included in the automatic cuts.

    Hmmm, defense makes up over half of discretionary spending…which would mean defense would have to absorb over half the cuts.

  12. @ponce:

    The automatic cuts are divided between defense spending and non-defense discretionary spending (i.e., non entitlement spending)

  13. jan says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    @Doug Mataconis: It’s rare, but I agree with you on this one Doug. The chance that anything that comes out of the Super Committee can be passed by both the House and Senate and signed by the POTUS is Slim and None and Slim left town.

    It’s equally rare that I agree with both Ron and Doug. The super committee seemed more an attempted ploy to settle the debt limit ceiling issue with anemic and unrealistic solutions.

    All along you’ve had R’s and D’s diametrically opposed to each other’s ideas of what it will take for economic growth. And, now you have a president who is aimless, walking alone, and disconnected from reality. Not very good or grounded ingredients towards pointing this country in a reasonably viable direction.

  14. Dave Schuler says:

    Who’d’a thunk it? The big campaign issue for 2012 may be which Congressmen voted to repeal the sequester.

  15. Hey Norm says:

    How exactly is Obama disconnected from reality? The first issue would be your sense of reality which comes from the furthest extremes of political discourse. The second point is that the President tried to negotiate a Grand Bargain but the so-called republicans could not negotiate because of a tea bag wearing caucus that subscribes to a no-revenue-increase-not-never catechism that has absolutely no basis in economic reality. Can you name any government that has never ever raised revenue rates. Of course not. The tax cuts Bush passed by reconciliation did not deliver the promised effects…so nope…no reality there. So are 4:1 spending cuts/revenue increases reasonable? Not according to the extremists you read. So tell us Jan…what’s reality to you?

  16. David M says:

    @jan: You’ve capably continued to point out the GOP are opposing the Jobs Bill for political reasons, but I wonder why you’re not as worked up about the popular support for Obama’s proposals. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you claim many times before that the politicians need to start listening to their constituents about HCR, and the imaginary support for repeal. Seems to me if you really believed Congress should be listening to the people, then you’d be pushing fir the GOP to start working towards passing the Jobs Bill.

  17. ponce says:

    The automatic cuts are divided between defense spending and non-defense discretionary spending (i.e., non entitlement spending)

    I guess we’ll all find out more about this deal as the deadline approaches.

  18. An Interested Party says:

    Poor jan, trying to use the writings of a right-wing hack in her first link and then misrepresenting what someone else wrote in her second link in a feeble attempt to paint the President in a certain way…oh well, at least she’ll convince her fellow travelers, if no one else…

  19. jan says:

    @Hey Norm:

    How exactly is Obama disconnected from reality?

    Norm, those were links to articles which you can read yourself and either agree or disagree with the writer’s POV/analysis.

    @David M:

    While I think there should be a jobs bill, the one Obama is proposing is inadequate. Most of the perks in it are short term, and will do little to encourage job creation from the private business sector.

    @An Interested Party:

    Poor jan, trying to use the writings of a right-wing hack in her first link…

    It’s interesting that you seem to know these writers so well, politically labeling and then discarding those you deem ‘hacks.’ Somehow, though, I sense a bit of bias in your assessment.

    Both links provided a POV which is out there about the job’s bill and about Obama’s increasing isolation. For instance, Obama is going to Pennsylvania tomorrow and no Congressman will be on stage with him during his campaign speech, masked as a job’s speech. Congressmen like Altmire, Critz are saying they are ‘traveling.’ One, I think it might be Doyle, will meet him at the airport, shake his hand and then speed away. Even Casey is MIA. These dems no longer want to be associated with him or his plans.

    It’s unbelievable how much in denial you are about what is really going on.

  20. Hey Norm says:

    Jan…I’m not wasting my time with the far-right propaganda you read. Torture apologists etc.

  21. An Interested Party says:

    Yes, of course, jan, the President is just so isolated…I’m sure that he will face a primary challenge, right? Do provide us with a link to that too…

    As for being in denial, that would be you, with your bogus claims as to why so many Democrats lost in 2010…evidence was provided to you that you certainly didn’t refute…

  22. A voice from another precinct says:

    @jan: Now that I know that you, Ron, and Doug all have a firm grasp of the obvious, could someone, somewhere go on to moving Congress toward something that actually looks like a reasonable solution to the deficit problem? I’ve been waiting nearly 60 years and the only guys who managed to bring in balanced budgets during that time were Nixon (a RINO–even then) and Clinton.

    Right wingnuts, “you got som’ ‘splainin’ to do.”

  23. anjin-san says:

    Both links provided a POV which is out there about the job’s bill

    Well the POV that the Earth is 6000 years old is out there too. And I am of the opinion that if I ever meet Ashley Judd she will dump her husband to run away with me.

  24. anjin-san says:

    So tell us Jan…what’s reality to you?

    Don’t you know that Jan’s well-paid and adoring employees give her regular reports about the growing anger at Obama across the land?

  25. john personna says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    You’re both missing the point.

    The Super Committee was a dumb idea to begin with.

    I don’t recall anyone, of any political stripe, in OTB discussions, who liked the committee.

  26. CB says:


    oh come now. goodwin is a complete hack who wrote unsourced tripe for the new york freaking post, and the second article is not much more than a whine about his rhetoric, which is fair game and all, but theres not a whole lot of ‘there’ there. come on jan, you can do better.

    oh, and did anyone expect anything different from the super committee?

  27. mattb says:


    For what it’s worth on your links.

    Article 1:
    For facts: D-
    For understanding what Republicans think of Obama: A+
    The first one, from the Post, is an EDITORIAL, which means again NO FACT CHECKING. Goodwin can essentially say whatever he wants and interpret it however he wants. Given that on the second page he refers to Democrats with the monicker “Pander-crats” you know he’s coming from a very specific position.

    Plus for the last few year’s Goodwin’s been the Post’s political equivalent of Liz Smith. So no, I don’t take anything he writes more seriously than what Rush Limbaugh says on the radio.

    Article 2:
    For Facts – A
    For Interpretation – B+
    This on the other hand is far better if you want to make factual claims (which you did in your post). This would appear within the NEWS section, which means that it was fact checked. And so we can take Erika Werner’s facts (and the associated interpretation) as having more credibility. These are exactly the sort of articles that actually help you make your argument.

    Of course, it also let’s me point out the following passage from later down on the page regarding the opposition that Obama has faced for his entire presidency:

    Werner: The president’s opponents aren’t exactly laying it all out, either. … House Speaker John Boehner, meanwhile, claimed that Obama has “given up on the country and decided to campaign full-time” instead of seeking common ground with the GOP. But Boehner neglected to mention that Obama’s past attempts at compromise with Republicans often yielded scant results, as Obama himself pointed out.