While the Super Committee meets behind closed doors in a last-ditch effort to reach its goal of reducing the nation’s debt by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years, both political parties are preparing for failure ahead of the November 23rd deadline. Rather than finding constructive ways to solve the national debt Republicans and Democrats are busy launching pre-emptive blame bombs at the other side.
But in this game, the will of the American public is being ignored yet again.
A Gallup poll from this week found that 66% of Americans say unemployment and the economy is the most important issue facing the country. Only 6 percent in the poll said that the federal deficit is the most important issue.
According to a new Politico/George Washington University/Battleground poll, 39% of Americans say Congress should focus on the economy and jobs. Just 19% say they should focus on government spending and the budget deficit (39 percent to 19 percent)
The Congress is working totally at odds with this overwhelming national sentiment.
I'm not the only person who feels this way. In fact, this is very obvious to a lot of people, including some members of Congress and even the third-ranking Republican leader Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.). As reported by The Hill newspaper, "a bipartisan group of more than 150 House and Senate lawmakers renewed their call for the Super Committee to “go big” and strike at least a $4 trillion deal that included new tax revenues, entitlement reforms and discretionary spending cuts." Alexander "argued that Republicans on the Super Committee needed to offer more revenues if the deficit panel hopes to balance the country’s books.
“This is about more than money, it’s about whether the president and the Congress can competently govern,” Alexander said.
“We now have Republicans who have put revenues on the table [and] we have Democrats on the supercommittee who have put entitlements on the table.
“Both need to put more on the table and get a result, and we’re here to support them,” he said.
But sadly, it seems that at the moment, all of the energy is Washington is directed at budget cutting and reducing the deficit. The debate is not whether to cut but how much to cut.
Wall Street investors want to know there is some plan to control the debt. But they want it as part of a larger strategy to get the economy going. All of this self-righteous talk of the need for austerity and shared sacrifice is an invitation for the market to go bearish and send the economy into a double-dip recession.
Investors and corporations, the job creators that the GOP claims to champion, are saying they want the Super Committee to focus on investing more money in the U.S. economy to support the frail recovery.
And small business wants easier access to capital from banks while big corporations want increased consumer confidence to drive sales.
None of this is served by what is going on in the debt debate. If ever there was a moment when the government is ignoring the will of the people, this is it.
To repeat: The American worker, American business and American consumers are looking for a reason to be optimistic that the economy is going to get moving again.
That means the Super Committee will have to strike the elusive “Grand Bargain”—tax hikes in exchange for cuts to entitlement spending -- that Speaker of the House John Boehner and President Obama tried and failed to agree on earlier this year.
Why can’t Congress pay attention to that agenda?
Reducing the debt and balancing the budget is not worth all the angst and posturing taking place. If the problem is simply reducing the debt the Battleground poll indicates the overwhelming solution favored by most Americans, 89 percent, is to close tax loopholes and reform the tax code to make it fairer. Sixty-six percent of Americans support increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans and corporations to help balance the federal budget.
If the Super Committee fails to reach a tax-hike for spending cuts bargain, that too will further alienate the public.
As the Congressional Budget Office reminded us this week – even if the Super Committee is successful in finding $1.2 trillion to save in the next ten years, it still will not solve the underlying problems in the economy. If government spending was severely cut so it remains flat for years to come the debt will still increase because of interest payments. There needs to be new sources of revenue to support new spending to stir the economy in order to really lower the debt.
Yet, incredibly, the GOP proposals to deal with the budget call for cutting all tax rates by about 20%. Under the proposal, the top rate for the richest Americans would be reduced from 35% to 28 percent.
Also, implementation of the Super Committee’s spending cuts cannot be fully guaranteed beyond 2012. That means the most we can be assured of is $120 billion in real deficit reduction with tax rate reductions that will once again drive up the debt.
All of this madness is making people pessimistic about the country. Ninety-one percent of likely voters in the poll said they are opposed to across-the-board cuts to domestic spending, including Social Security and Medicare, while 83 percent were concerned about similar cuts to Pentagon spending.
But if the Super Committee cannot reach a deal by the deadline, across-the-board spending cuts for both defense and non-defense spending will be automatically triggered.
Perhaps the most disheartening result from the Battleground poll is that 69% of those surveyed expect the Super Committee will fail in their small, ineffectual attempt to strike a bipartisan deal to cut the debt. Just 21% said they believed it would succeed.
And why shouldn’t the people be this pessimistic when members of Congress speak as though the collapse of the Super Committee is inevitable?
But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Congress will wake up. It will be a nice Thanksgiving surprise if Congress directs their political energy and strategic thinking towards fixing the economy and getting people back to work.
Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst. His next book is "Muzzled: The Assault On Honest Debate" (Crown/Random House) was released in July.