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The real deadline for the Super Committee to reach a deal has passed. Despite a November 23rd target date, midnight Monday was the point of no return, because the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) needed 48 hours to analyze the agreement before it could be voted on in Congress. A last minute meeting Monday afternoon yielded no breakthrough, with both parties blaming the other for the failure to reach an agreement. The official announcement of failure came less than an hour after the markets closed. “After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline,” said co-chairs Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA).
How serious was the effort to find a bipartisan consensus on reining in the nation’s runaway debt? The last time the 12 members met was November 1st. Thus the failure to find common ground was seemingly inevitable, and beginning in 2013 “sequestration,” automatic cuts evenly divided between military and domestic spending, will kick in.
Or will they? On Monday it was revealed that Republican Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are putting together legislation to prevent what they characterize as “devastating cuts” to the military. Some House Republicans are reportedly engaged in a similar effort, even as Democrats insist domestic programs will not be the sole source of savings. Leaders of both parties in the House and Senate are not enthused about abandoning the triggers. And president Obama told the Super Committee’s Democrat and Republican co-Chairmen that he “will not accept any measure that attempts to turn off the automatic cut trigger,” according to White House Spokesman Jay Carney.
Such an announcement seemingly represents the high-water mark in terms of leadership by the president. Even as the failure of the Super Committee was becoming more and more inevitable, the president remained out of the country. Such an abdication of leadership on fiscal matters is nothing new. The $3.8 trillion budget he submitted to Congress was so patently unserious it was voted down 97-0 in the Senate. He dismissed every recommendation made by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, despite the fact that he had put together the commission himself, because some of their choices conflicted with his hard-left worldview. He presided over the first downgrade of the nation’s fiscal rating, engendered in large part by the massive amount of debt his administration has amassed in less than one term. And he continues to engage in the kind of class-warfare rhetoric that makes meaningful compromise almost impossible to achieve.
Yet if a comment made by unnamed Democratic aide is any indication, failure may have been part of the administration’s re-election strategy. “The worm has turned a little bit,” the aide remarked. “The national conversation now is about income inequality and about jobs, and it’s not really about cutting the size of government anymore or cutting spending. 2010 gave one answer to that question. But 2012 will give another, and we’ve got to see what it is.”
Such cynicism is well-founded. Dwelling on economics in general, and the economic data that animated the Super Committee specifically, is not the American public’s strong suit. Thus it hardly matters that Republicans were demanding genuine cuts to spending instead of accounting gimmicks, such as counting the money the nation will no longer be spending on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as $700 billion in “savings.” Nor does it matter that they offered as much as $250 billion in tax cuts via reforming the tax code, even as the main drivers of deficit spending, namely Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, remain largely off limits to cuts–except for a 2 percent reduction in payments to Medicare providers.
As far as the public is concerned, the failure of the Super Committee is “everyone’s fault.”
How unsustainable is the path on which the country currently finds itself? One of the more sobering assessments of where we’ve been moving for the last 48 years can be seen in this chart, which traces the explosion of government spending from 1963 to the present. What it reveals is an enormously successful nation in terms of GDP growth relative to the population: though we now have 67.6 percent more Americans than we did in 1963, GDP has expanded by 228.2 percent. Unfortunately, the chart also reveals the primary source of our fiscal troubles: annual social spending has increased by a stratospheric 739.2 percent.
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