The Spectacle Blog

Good Things Can Come Out of Bad Supercommittees

By on 11.21.11 | 10:59AM

The supercommittee's failure is, at first glance, yet another reason to despair of there ever being enough fiscally conservative members of Congress to limit federal spending to sustainable levels. 

Yet the idea that a bipartisan committee would find compromise so close to a momentous election was questionable from the start. One way or another, the country and the legislature will have more clarity about fiscal issues in early 2013. In all likelihood the new Congress won't have a mandate to fix the overspending problem, but at least it won't face the pressures of a looming presidential election. 

Furthermore, there are reasons to think that it will be easier, procedurally, to get a deal through Congress in 2013. Former senator Phil Gramm explained in the Wall Street Journal that the Budget Control Act that created the supercommittee also "revived" the 1985 Gramm-Rudman Act, "bringing back to life provisions enabling the president and Congress to propose alternatives after the sequester is ordered." That means that a Republican president could work with Congress to revise the automatic cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act into whatever cuts they desired. Doing so would require only a 51-vote majority in the Senate, instead of the usual 60 required to overcome a filibuster. So the supercommittee's failure could enable a Republican president, aided by a Republican House and Senate (or even a divided Senate), to address entitlement spending without many of the normal procedural dead ends. 

Obviously, that's a rosy scenario. But it's probably less rosy than the scenario in which the supercommittee cut trillions in spending without raising any taxes. 

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