Is Congress even capable of controlling the federal budget?

By John Keller
Editor in Chief

The so-called congressional supercommittee, put in place to identify federal spending cuts over the next 10 years, has declared failure—even before its deadline. That means the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) budget faces annual automatic cuts of $55 billion.

$55 billion is enough to pay for about 40 F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft, 1,200 Predator unmanned aerial vehicles, 885 M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks, or 12 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. Remember, that $55 billion cut could happen every year for 10 years in a worse-case scenario.

The supercommittee was tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in federal spending cuts over the next decade, and members simply couldn’t do it. Now the federal budget faces potentially automatic deep spending cuts starting in federal fiscal year 2013, which begins in 10 months. DOD programs could be among the hardest hit if Congress doesn’t intervene.

Intervention. That was supposed to be the role of the supercommittee, but partisan bickering doomed negotiations probably before they really got started. Democrats are blaming breakdown of the supercommittee talks over extending the so-called Bush tax cuts beyond this year.

Democrats on the supercommittee wanted the tax cuts to expire, which they say would raise taxes on those they consider to be wealthy. Republicans, always ready to go to the mat for tax cuts, wouldn’t give an inch on anything with the potential to raise taxes on any economic group, and talks came to a grinding halt.

So here we are, in the middle of a completely manufactured and avoidable government “crisis,” another in what seems to be a never-ending string of crises that primarily serve to hurt private individuals and private business as Congress and the Obama Administration wrangle over deeply partisan interests.

In my darker moments, I wonder if the supercommittee was ever serious about cutting federal spending. Some news reports had it that supercommittee members rarely met as a body and had little, if any, sense of urgency to get the spending cuts made.

Also, supercommittee members appeared to be eager to declare failure even before deadlines passed, ostensibly to trigger automatic spending cuts. No late-night meetings were called, no last-minute negotiations were even staged for the cameras. News photos of supercommittee members announcing the group’s failure even looked like the members were bored to be there.

There’s all kind of political hay that Congress and the Administration can make from the supercommittee’s failure. Democrats will try to pin blame on Republicans for digging in their heels on raising taxes. Republicans can blame democrats for their determination to raise taxes even in a down economy.

It almost seems like members of the supercommittee—and by extension the Obama Administration—had more to gain by the supercommittee’s failure than by any perceived success. Think of the political cover that automatic federal spending cuts offer to the politicians. Automatic cuts enable any member of Congress to pass blame on to everybody else when bad things happen. Nobody has to be accountable. What could sound sweeter to any politician?

Politics being what they are, it’s no wonder this latest attempt at cutting federal spending went down in flames. It makes me wonder if Congress as an institution is even capable of cutting spending, ever. There are so many entrenched special interests with their hands out, and so many members of Congress beholden to these special interests.

Seems the group with the least political clout in the budget-cutting negotiations is the taxpayer. We’ll see what kind of clout this group really has come November 2012.

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February 2014
Volume 25, Issue 2

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