CommunityThe Bullpen

Catfood Commission II More Likely to Generate a Bad Deal than Fail

David Farenthold explains that joint committees don’t really work, and we shouldn’t expect this one to work either.

According to the latest plans, committee members would only have a few months to complete the job, and when — if — they approve a final set of cuts, the rest of Congress would be given a simple choice: take them or leave them.

Sounds simple, right? But there is a problem with this idea: Similar “super” working-groups have been tried before — and they haven’t always delivered super results. In fact, one of the few things that will make the committee’s job easier is that a lot of the ground has already been covered […]

“They tend not to work,” said Sarah Binder, a historian of Congress at George Washington University. The problem, Binder said, is that the factors that keep the whole Congress from solving hard problems usually reappear in a smaller committee.

“The same conflict that leads to the creation of these groups,” Binder said, “gets replicated in those groups.”

I agree with that to an extent. Anyone who thinks that this commission will include any Republican who wants to raise revenues is kidding themselves.

But the complication here is the spending cut trigger. Now, triggers also don’t always work: they have a history of failure. But it’s not so much the trigger as the perception of that trigger.

If the Catfood Commission II fails, $1.2 trillion will get sequestered (a fancy term for cut), half out of the Pentagon and half out of the domestic budget, leaving programs for the poor, veterans benefits, and Social Security harmless. Among safety-net programs only Medicare could take a hit, and it would be a haircut for providers, according to reports, not benefit cuts.

This seems to set up OK for Democrats. But the discretionary budget, remember, is ALREADY taking a $917 billion hit. Additional cuts would cut into the bone. Education, housing, infrastructure, investment in green energy, government operations, foreign aid: these are the kinds of programs you would see zeroed out. What’s more, the White House really doesn’t want that level of defense cuts. So I truly think that DEMOCRATS would be more constrained by the trigger than Republicans. And we’ve seen these fights before. They end with Democrats agreeing to Republican demands. I don’t see the reason to believe that negotiations will go any different next time.

Full expiration of the Bush tax cuts was unacceptable to many Republicans and Democrats alike. So the GOP played its hand aggressively, and Democrats backed down. Failure to raise the debt ceiling was unacceptable to many Republicans and Democrats alike. So the GOP played its hand aggressive, and Democrats backed down. If pulling the sequestration trigger is unacceptable to many Republicans and Democrats alike, then why won’t Republicans simply play the same game of bluff and hardball that’s worked for them in the past? What new trick is up Obama’s sleeve to change the basic hostage dynamic? I don’t think it’s inconceivable that the administration could answer that question in a plausible way, but I don’t think anything they put out yesterday clearly offered such an answer.

And we know that the Catfood Commission II will, in all likelihood, include those safety net cuts “protected” by this deal.

I don’t see why people are even talking about the triggers so much. The commission sets up well to generate a deal, and a bad one at that. In fact, I’d hasten to add that the right move for progressives is to NOT vote for any deal from the Catfood Commission II. I can hardly see how it will get any better than the automatic cuts.

Previous post

Shorter AARP: We’ll Analyze the Bill Until After It’s Passed

Next post

How Catfood 2 can "sort of" raise taxes

David Dayen

David Dayen