Evidence that this country is on its way to the trash bin of history ala Rome:
In the first of what will be a closely watched selection process for a powerful new deficit panel, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he will appoint Democratic Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Max Baucus (Mont.) and John Kerry (Mass.) as his three choices for a super committee charged with finding more than $1 trillion in spending cuts by the end of this year.
Murray will serve as co-chair of the 12-member panel. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will select her co-chair and two other panelists, as required by the next debt limit agreement signed into law by President Barack Obama last week. Minority Leaders Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell will each select three additional members.
By choosing Murray, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that will be trying to defend the 23 Senate seats currently held by Democrats, Reid ensures that whatever recommendation his people agree to will be deeply informed by the Democrats’ desire to hold onto their slim majority.
He comes from a red state, he’s an institution in the Senate, and he’s not up for reelection until 2014. He’s as insulated from a tough vote as one can be. He’s also, as noted in the quote, chairman of the Finance Committee, so if he blessed a deal, that would give it added credibility in the Senate. And he’s been reasonably good on taxes, so he might side with Republicans on tax reform. The bad news? He duly wet himself over Paul Ryan’s budget and he’s earned some fans at AARP for supporting “doctor fix,” which contributes mightily to Medicare continuously running over budget. He’s probably not signing off on any serious entitlement reform, in other words, although if the GOP can come up with some revenues via tax reform, that might encourage him to join them in a modest first step.
But he won’t accomplish anything because the Murray pick has ensured this committee will be nothing but politics 24-7, further ensuring that nothing will get done. But wait! Then those supposed spending cut triggers should kick in….right?
…As part of the debt-ceiling law President Barack Obama signed on Aug. 2, the trigger will be activated if the panel of 12 lawmakers can’t agree on at least $1.2 trillion in savings by Nov. 23 or if Congress rejects a plan they propose. All five ex- CBO chiefs said there are ways for Congress to circumvent the trigger, which wouldn’t go into effect until 2013.
“Even if it fires, the question is ‘how many of the bullets actually hit your body,’” said Peter Orszag, a onetime director of the nonpartisan CBO, which reviews congressional legislation and budgets.
…While the cuts are supposed to be automatic, Congress can delay or override them if they prove too painful — defense spending would be reduced by 9.1 percent over a decade while non-defense programs would be cut 7.9 percent. That’s what lawmakers did with the 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act, the template for the trigger.
The trigger mechanism also won’t include the entitlement-benefit cuts that rankle Democrats or call for tax increases reviled by Republicans, both of which may be necessary to pose a credible threat of mutual pain on the two parties that would motivate the super committee to reach a compromise.
…The former budget officials say there are various options for lessening the trigger’s impact, particularly since there would be a year-long period before it kicks in. “If they want to finesse it, it’s not hard,” said Rivlin.
The automatic cuts would be spread equally over the remaining nine-year window of the legislation, based on a formula drawn up by the White House Office of Management and Budget. Congress and its committees would then have to hit those spending targets through the annual appropriations process, which allocates federal dollars to specific programs.
Congress could delay some of the most politically unpopular cuts, such as reductions in reimbursement rates to health-care providers under Medicare, until the final years of the law, the ex-budget directors said.
…Lawmakers could also designate new federal spending as “emergency” funding that falls outside the caps. While the new law narrowly defines such spending, it’s the same language from previous budget-restraint agreements, said Orszag, who directed CBO from 2007 to 2009, and is now a vice chairman of Citigroup Inc. (C) and a contributor to Bloomberg View.
“It was just ignored,” he said. “You can always get Orwellian and call anything an unanticipated event.”
Marron, who now heads the Urban Institute’s Tax Policy Center in Washington, cited spending on the 2000 Census, which Congress designated as an emergency. “You have this classic arms race issue, and people become more and more creative about identifying things as emergencies,” he said.
Finally, lawmakers have no way of preventing future Congresses from overturning the cutbacks, which was the case with the 1985 agreement. In the five years the Gramm Rudman law was in effect, the triggers were activated twice — one of which was reduced by Congress and the other overridden by a subsequent budget agreement.
And we’re back to square one and the continuing demise of this once great Republic.
Curt served in the Marine Corps for four years and has been a law enforcement officer in Los Angeles for the last 20 years.