Congress should be thrilled with its nine percent approval rating. The failure of the so-called Super Committee is entirely unacceptable, and reason for the approval rating to be low single digits. On Sunday, I received a Breaking News Alert from CNN:
Members of the “super committee” charged with coming up with $1.2 trillion in budget cuts are focused on how to announce failure to reach a deal, Democratic and Republican aides confirmed to CNN Sunday.
The committee’s focus never should have come to how to announce failure. The committee’s work is essential to the economic well being of the country. Without a plan, automatic spending-cuts will result in defense reductions of as much as $600 billion. CNN notes, “Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Congress this week that such cuts could cripple the American military establishment.” Although Congress does have the ability to amend or repeal the sequester, it would financially irresponsible to eliminate the automatic spending cuts. Likewise, it would be unsafe for Congress to permit massive DOD cuts that could leave the U.S. in harm’s way. The only viable solution is for Congress to find and legislate the necessary cuts. Yet, members are unwilling to break ideological ranks for fear of electoral consequences. A CNN/ORC International poll released Monday shows that 59 percent of self-identified Republican respondents oppose tax hikes and 57 percent of self-identified Democratic respondents reject spending cuts. If members reflect these sentiments, a middle ground may be non-existent.
Nonetheless, it seems unfair to throw out the baby with the Congressional bathwater. Not all members of Congress are partisans, not all members are ideologues, and not all members are incapable of reaching an agreement. Let’s consider the six Senate members on the super committee:
Patty Murray (D-WA): Murray is the Chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, hardly a position that lends itself to pragmatic compromise. She has 97 percent party unity and 98 percent presidential support.
Max Baucus (D-MT): 93 percent party unity and 97 percent presidential support.
John Kerry (D-MA): 97 percent party unity and 100 percent presidential support.
Jon Kyl (R-AZ): 97 percent party unity and 40 percent presidential support.
Rob Portman (R-OH): In his first term. 94 percent party unity.
Pat Toomey (R-PA): Conservative Republican who challenged well-respected pragmatist Arlen Specter, leading to Specter’s switch to the Democratic Party prior to the 2010 Senatorial elections. In his first term, Toomey has 89 percent party unity.
The super committee was filled largely with party stalwarts adverse to compromise. Overlooked, however, was another six-Senator group filled with pragmatic, compromise-oriented office holders. The Gang of Six proposed a $3.7 trillion debt-reduction plan way back in July. Congress should have simply nominated the Gang of Six as the super committee and resolved the issue outright. Or, perhaps Congress should have adopted the blueprint produced by the Simpson-Bowles Commission.
This example of partisan failure, however, is not simply about finance; it is testament to the devastated status quo American political system. Arthur Vandenberg once declared, “Politics stops at the water’s edge.” The United States has reached the water’s edge, but our politicians are proceeding at full speed.
More than a third of the 2005 Gang of 14 is no longer serving in Congress. Eight of the eleven incumbent senators with the lowest party unities (most moderate voting records) in 2010 are no longer in office, lost a primary election to a more partisan candidate, or are expected to face serious primary challenges from more partisan candidates in 2012. LZ Granderson wrote a publicized article that asserted, “stupid voters enable broken government.” It is not that Americans elect stupid people, but that we elect partisans. This is due to reparable flaws in our electoral system that must be fixed.
There are statesmen in the United States today, yet they seem to be alienated from well-deserved public respect and recognition. From Richard Lugar and Orrin Hatch to Jim Webb and Mark Warner, among a large handful of others, pragmatists are being grossly undervalued within the political system.
Republican Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, facing political threats from the left and right in the upcoming cycle, declared, “Regarding the [super committee] folding, it’s not time for finger-pointing, its time to get back to work and solve our debt crisis.” Although we certainly need not point fingers, it is relevant to examine why the committee failed.
If the super committee is deemed a failure and Congress faces sequestration, it should act quickly to adopt the Gang of Six’s plan. Moreover, every member of the House and Senate should personally commit to vote in favor of tax hikes and budget cuts. Congress absolutely must pass a deficit reduction plan; failure again simply is not a viable option.