Opinion: If the Supercommittee Fails, We're All in Big Trouble

Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - 05:57 PM

Committee members Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) (L) sets his name plate up as Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) (R) looks on during a hearing before the Joint Deficit Reduction Committee. (Getty)

There is a ticking clock on the front page of the Washington Post. Surprise of all surprises - our country is staring down yet another huge budget deadline. The so called Supercomittee must piece together legislation that cuts at least $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over ten years, or a trigger will go into effect that enacts a blanket cut across most of the federal budget.

But would it really be all that bad they fail, and the big hunk of the federal government has to eat a 7.8 percent budget cut? In short, yes... it would be horrible. The trigger was designed to be painful enough to motivate the two parties to work together. But with the ineffective leadership we have in Washington, even dangerous cuts like the ones I describe below might not be enough.

The center-left think tank Third Way put out an interesting memo on the subject recently, talking about some of the bigger measurable ramifications of Supercommittee failure. The scariest out of them, in my eyes, is how it would effect federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI, ATF, US Marshalls and federal attorneys that prosecute the suspects those agents arrest. Unless the Supercommittee comes up with a plan bigger than the minimum, these agencies are slated to lose approximately 3700 agents and nearly a thousand attorneys.

Based on average arrest and conviction rates, losing that much manpower will result in over twenty-six THOUSAND less arrests, and over twelve THOUSAND convictions. Under-staffing at federal prisons would also go from bad to worse, we'd lose about 600 food safety inspectors (raising the rate of cases of food poisoning by an estimated 50,000 cases) and U.S. Border Patrol would lose about one out of four of it's agents.

Gun sales and gun stores may have to do without selling for most of the day on Saturdays and Sundays, due to necessary layoffs at the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Travelers can expect almost a thousand more flight cancellations, and over 20,000 more flight delays across the country, stranding tens of thousands and making over a million people late, at airports given required layoffs to air traffic controllers. A quarter million less bags would be screened by the TSA as well, making it even more likely that attempts like the 'Toner Cartridge Bombers" would slip through the cracks. The most absurd of the cuts would come out of the very agency that collects taxes. Losing an estimated 2,326 agents would likely result in approximately $4.5 billion in lost revenue.

Don't take this as me implying that I don't think federal law enforcement shouldn't have to take a haircut, along with almost every other federal agency, but this goes way too far. Asking agencies to take pay cuts, trim their workforce a bit, streamline and other such cost saving measures is just plain something we need to do. But cutting this many people, who are on the front line of keeping us safe day-to-day, is ridiculous.

The reality is there are few to no places the Supercommittee members could cut that wouldn't be painful to some major constituency. But these representatives are doing our country a gross injustice if they allow this trigger to be pulled, rather than comb through the budget looking for cuts that would be the least painful. Not just economically, but to the day to day safety of the American people.

Solomon Kleinsmith is a former nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates.


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Comments [2]

The Stupor Committee (or The Ditzy Dozen)

The brain-trust of Congress is just over a week away from their dead-line to place before their brethren and the public their solution to the federal deficit reduction problem. That is, they would be expected to present their proposal if they have managed to achieve an actual joint proposal that they agree to endorse. However, given the moronic state of contention that the Republicans and Democrats insist upon sustaining as their unique version of a perpetual non-motion machine, I suspect that we will not see a “super committee” plan. At best, they will have devised two or more “plans” which different permutations of the committee membership will favor and advocate or will reject and deride. In other words, the stupor-committee will dysfunction in the manner that Congress uses at every opportunity. Why do something intelligent, public service oriented or worthy of American leadership? Hell, they’re in Congress, they aren’t supposed to work for the American people’s interests.

So if the appointed twelve do in fact punt on their duty and miss their chance to do something meaningful and important for the country, if they fail to seize their carpe diem moment, and if they forgo the opportunity to cast an enduring legacy then what is the American public supposed to do? Well the Democrats will rail against the Republican members, and the Republicans will harp on the Democrats; so nothing different there. But what is it that the Independents should do? They hold the key after all to all these politicians’ futures. They decide the elections that each Congressional hack will be facing in the future.

The failure of the super committee to act in a responsible, inspired and courageous manner should cost them their seat of privilege at the Congressional trough. The price of their inaction is to transform them into a beacon of enlightenment, a super nova in the firmament of politics, a shining example of the consequences of their ineptitude, cowardice, and stupidity. Their bonus for nonperformance is a ticket home.

This is the strategy that Independents need to adopt. Just as the stupor committee should do their job of formulating a plan of action to guide the nation through the deficit, Independents need to step up and hold the political process and parties to account for their inactions. Who knows, perhaps if Congress-men/women were motivated to attend to national interests and values rather than divisive partisan distraction, one or two of them might actually see how to solve some of national problems through creative, innovative and inspired approaches to government. It certainly can’t hurt given they do not appear to have a clue about how to address the economy, jobs, education, health-care, defense or well anything.

Nov. 15 2011 08:51 PM

[I can best respond by quoting myself from another forum.]

"The time is fast approaching for the report of the 'Super Committee'. That will be a plan to reduce the deficit by 1.2T$ or so or a statement to the effect that they could not reach agreement.

"Either way, the committee has done exactly what it was designed to do. It has taken the heat off Congress for almost 3 months so that Congress could concentrate on the really important stuff -- raising money for re-election.

"And also either way, the committee's report and any 'trigger' will be disregarded or nullified. Ways have been found to side-step the imposition of an 'across the board' spending cut. Congress will continue crafting sound bites about the whole thing to help them come election time.

"The day of the report will come, and go, and Congress will continue to play, well, party games.

"It's all show biz, you see."

Nov. 15 2011 06:58 PM

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