Congress is on its summer recess and probably getting an earful from constituents who are wondering what's going on in dysfunctional D.C. these days. If we were to base its members' compensation, benefits and extensive vacation time on productivity, most folks would say they should be chained to their desks on the floors of the House and Senate and fed stale bread and warm water until they get their work done. Instead, they're flying around the nation telling us how great they are, how bad the other guys are, and how they're going to make it all right with the new Super Committee. It's yet another charade foisted on the American public by both parties, which undoubtedly know this effort is doomed from the start.
While it may be painful, it doesn't take much effort to recall the sordid events of the Congressional-White House battle over raising the debt ceiling. In a nutshell, the Republicans stood in unity against any attempts to raise revenue through taxing the wealthy. Instead, they demanded and got reductions in spending. Obama and the Democrats caved with barely a struggle in what's become a sorry state of affairs for the "party of the people."
The hodgepodge of legislation tossed together at the last minute—with virtually no opportunity for input from the public—leaves the nation's serious fiscal condition primarily unresolved. Yes, the debt ceiling was raised a little, but only to the accompanying level of spending reductions. Obama's "Grand Deal" failed to materialize, and so the can has been kicked down the road once again.
But here's the rub. When Congress reconvenes, a new Super Committee made up of six House members and six senators is supposed to crank out a plan for significant debt reduction and have it done before year's end. But remember, even with the full House, Senate and White House working at what they want us to believe was their maximum capacity, they burned up months on the debt ceiling negotiations and never decided how to balance the budget so revenues came closer to matching expenditures.
Now we're supposed to believe that 12 people from two warring parties are going to magically walk out holding hands and waving a "Grand Deal" in three months. Not only are these folks supposed to somehow reach agreement on spending cuts, but, if you believe the feeble Democrat rhetoric, they're also supposed to agree on ways to raise revenue.
The Republican position on raising revenue seems intractable. They have only one word to say, and that's "no." So, are the Democrats from Obama on down, who vow that they really, really want to raise revenue this time, simply ignoring the reality of the Republican stance, or are they just playing to the crowd in what has become the theater of the absurd of American politics? My bet is the latter: more smoke and mirrors.
The real goal of the Republicans seems clearer. If the committee cannot come to agreement, the debt ceiling legislation says that mandatory cuts in federal spending will be made across the board. Moreover, those cuts will be in the trillions, not billions, and as both Obama and the Republicans have already said, they will likely entail the so-called entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
If the Democrats got anything out of the debt ceiling bill, it's that the military is also supposed to be in for some significant cuts if the Super Committee fails to find agreement. Given that the makeup of the committee virtually assures failure, the Dems hope they'll "win" by reducing the ballooning military budget, which now eats up more than half of the nation's discretionary spending.
But before you get all giddy over finally chopping down some of the long green the military-industrial complex gobbles up, best remember who we have calling the shots here. First off, one of the Super Committee members is Montana's own Max Baucus, the anti-hero of the health reform legislation that has just had its foundation, the mandate for all Americans to buy insurance, cut out from under it by a federal appeals court. If past performance is any indication–and why wouldn't it be?–we can once again expect Baucus to show every bit as much spine as Gumby when it comes to cutting military pork.
But let's go a little higher. This week, Secretary of State Hillary "The Warhawk" Clinton and Leon Panetta, the newly shuffled secretary of defense, jointly addressed the National Defense University in their best Chicken Little modes, saying the sky would fall if any cuts are made to the military beyond the minimal reductions in the new debt ceiling bill.
"This kind of massive cut across the board, which would literally double the number of cuts that we're confronting...would have devastating effects on our national defense," Panetta said. "It does cast a pall over our ability to project the kind of security interests that are in America's interests," Clinton chimed in. "This is not about the Defense Department or the State Department...This is about the United States of America."
So there you have it. Despite Obama's bus-tour promises, once again his administration has caved before the bargaining even begins. Whatever hope the Democrats may have had to significantly reduce military expenditures is already being torpedoed from the top.
There's little doubt the Super Committee will fail. It's designed to. What's really discouraging is that when it does, it's likely Democrats will join Republicans in supporting indefensible military expenditures that are helping bring our nation to the brink of ruin.
Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at firstname.lastname@example.org.