Super Committee "Failure" Is Anything But

On Monday evening (Nov. 21), the Super Committee formally announced that it was unable to reach an agreement for reducing the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion. While others are decrying the lack of agreement by the Super Committee and calling it a failure, we at OMB Watch believe that each of us should, instead, be relieved.

The Super Committee was given less than 10 weeks to come to agreement on fundamental questions about the relationship of the federal government to the people it governs. Putting in place drastic funding cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and an array of vital programs that serve the American people would have been, under these circumstances, no less than absurd. Open and participatory lawmaking is the only way to ensure that federal budget policies support national priorities.

There are a series of fundamental questions we, as a country, are asking. Questions like: Should those who benefit most from the economy contribute more than everyone else? Is there some baseline level of living standards that everyone should enjoy? What is it? To what extent should the government protect people from pollution created by corporations that profit from manufacturing that creates such pollution? Will our physical safety be threatened if we have fewer nuclear submarines or stealth fighters?

The American people don't yet have a consensus on the answers to these questions, but we do know how essential it is that we begin to discover one. Once we have reached that point, it's Congress' job to legislate that consensus. It is not, however, Congress' job to sit behind closed doors and fundamentally restructure the federal budget without public input and without being held accountable for the massive restructuring of our national priorities that would result from such major budgetary decisions. The authority to do so was never theirs to claim.

The Joint Select Committee Deficit Reduction was tasked in August with developing a $1.2 trillion package of cuts and revenue-raisers that at least seven of the committee's 12 members could agree on, and to do so outside of the normal legislative processes. The committee held only four public hearings. It boasted about keeping the details of its private meetings secret. Public input into the negotiations was limited to those few savvy lobbyists had the right contacts programmed in their smartphones.

For these reasons, we join other public interest groups, like the National Women's Law Center, in saying that no deal is better than a bad deal. The inventors of the Super Committee and many other budget gadflies in Washington have come to believe that public scrutiny of lawmaking prevents elected officials from making "tough choices," but making tough choices while simultaneously grappling with public opinions is the central job of members of Congress. Why should they get to take an easy way out?

While we acknowledge that a national conversation about our country's budgetary priorities is necessary, we urge Congress to, the next time around, start this conversation the right way: Involve the American people, conduct their deliberations in a truly transparent fashion, and consider the best interests of those they represent.

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