When the 435 House members and 100 senators failed in July to agree on a longterm deficit reduction plan, the leaders did what they often do when they don’t know what to do: they appointed a committee. But don’t sneer, for this is – cue the trumpets – a supercommittee!
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Made up of only a dozen lawmakers and perfectly balanced between Repubs and Dems, this panel is to find about $1.5 trillion in spending cuts and new revenues to shrink the federal deficit. The theory is that the group will be small enough to work together across partisan lines for the good of the country, independent of the competing budgetary needs of various groups and the demands of special interests.
The problem with theories is that reality has a way of intruding on their perfection. In this case, the intrusion is literal. The twelve solons will not be sitting at the table alone, for such names as AT&T, BlueCross/BlueShield, Citigroup, and GE have been escorted inside by the members. They’ll not go in physically – but monetarily. For they are among the top donors of campaign cash to the twelve budgeteers, giving them an advantage over us plain citizens.
For example, Wall Streeters have invested $17 million in the campaigns of the supercommittee’s six Republicans and $15 million in the six Democrats. That pile of political money will be a screaming presence in the negotiating room, for members will be thinking about their need to get more of it for the next election and will not want to offend donors.
By the way, one of the first decisions reached by the committee members was that they would allow themselves to continue collecting campaign donations while they decide whose programs and subsidies get cut – and whose don’t. How do you think that’ll work out?