Power Play

Press Hypes Phony Supercommittee Deadline


Press Hypes Phony Supercommittee Deadline

Countdown to…. Nothing

"I'm unaware of any offer or any idea from any Democrat that did not include a minimum of a trillion dollar tax increase."

-- Republican debt-ceiling supercommittee foreman Rep. Jeb Hensarling when told by a reporter that his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., claimed her side had “met (Republicans’) offer” on taxes.

After weeks of hyping the consequences of failure of the debt-ceiling supercommittee, lawmakers and political reporters will soon have to admit that it wouldn’t be such a big deal after all.

Failure, as the software industry joke goes, is not a bug. It’s a feature.

Power Play still expects the 12-member, bipartisan, bicameral group to cough up something on Wednesday – less than the $1.2 trillion in decreases to the size of future deficits, but at least the last bits of easy budgetary lifting to be done through accounting gimmickry, etc. But there is an increasingly more sanguine mood among lawmakers and staffers about the prospect of total failure.

That stems from two things. First, there are a considerable number on the right and left who aren’t so worried about the once-dreaded “sequestration.” While ultra hawks are adamant that there can be no cuts to Pentagon spending and hard-line liberals are in a rage over the idea that there would be any reduction to Medicaid, there is a growing sentiment for just letting the reductions happen.

If the supercommittee can come up with some easy deficit reductions, that sentiment would grow. Hawks say $600 billion in reductions to projected Pentagon budgets over nine years would be devastating, but if the supers could halve that, the automatic reductions might be met with a shrug. Conservatives especially would be happy with an all-cuts answer to the final phase of the largest-ever increase in the federal credit limit.

But the best argument for total feature is the most ingenious part of this not-so-doomsday device: the countdown clock.

In the event of absolute supercommittee impasse – no deficit reductions at all – the first nickel of the automatic reduction wouldn’t come out for 13 months. When the clock hits midnight on Wednesday nothing will happen. Nor will anything happen for the next 403 midnights after that. And when the dreaded device is finally tripped, any real pain would still be years away.

Congress didn’t build a doomsday device. It built a time machine to take them past the next election.

While Democrats have enjoyed having another opportunity to call Republicans do-nothing scallywags who refuse to embrace additional stimulus spending at the expense of the 1 percent, etc., Republicans have been able to endure the pain because they know it is far preferable to what they suffered during the actual debt-ceiling negotiations.

The debt ceiling is going to $16.4 trillion next year whatever happens on Wednesday, so there will be no financial panics, no government shutdown preparations, no Tea Party protests outside like there were in August. Nothing. Just a lot of bickering and name calling as both sides continue to posture as the reasonable party locked into negotiations with an unreasonable foe and lots of articles in the establishment press about “an opportunity missed.”

But with a divide so deep in Congress, what opportunity is there? What’s the spending plan that Ron Paul and Nancy Pelosi could both support? There is a fundamental question to be resolved about the proper role of government, and it’s going to be up to voters to decide. And while the Washington Post editorial page will summon its deepest indignation about the failure of lawmakers to impose compromise, there are some moments in the life of a republic where voters have to answer the big questions. The 2012 elections will be one of those times.

Democrats are loving the current moment since they get to score points on Republicans with the help of a mainstream press jonseing for another chance to turn on the countdown clocks and do another round of stories about Grover Norquist and Republican intransigence.

But Republicans, betting that they will have a stronger hand in Washington after the 2012 elections, can endure it all in the hope that the final leg of this debt-ceiling decathlon will provide their real victory. They’re imagining the joy of writing the law to wipe away the supercommittee claptrap with the help of a GOP-controlled Senate and a Republican president.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“I can hear Corzine on the phone call saying, ‘Joe, buy Italian bonds. Buy heavy.’

Look, if this guy were a Republican ex-senator, ex-governor, as you say, the … eighth largest bankruptcy in American history, $600 million has disappeared, all kind of inquiries, including some criminal, and if he were a Republican it would be all over the front pages. The reason it isn't is because the mainstream narrative is plutocrats, Wall Street, greed, Republicans, conservatives. It doesn't fit. But I think it's a scandal that it has been buried as much as it has.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier” talking about Vice President Joe Biden’s 2009 remarks talking about how he and President Obama relied on Jon Corzine for financial-sector policy advice.


Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.