When it comes to spending and borrowing, Congress is like a dieter who padlocks his own refrigerator.
It sounds like a good plan, but then if you have the key to the lock, just how effective is it?
Not at all, it turns out.
Congress tried to lock itself in to taking austerity measures when it formed what was to be a Super Committee of six Republican and six Democratic representatives and senators. Basically, they were told to lock themselves in a room and work out a deal to cut $1.2 trillion from the national debt over a 10-year period. To ensure these dozen lawmakers succeeded at their task, Congress created a penalty for failure — automatic cuts to a wide range of federal programs, including defense, starting in 2013.
The task required the Super Committee to quickly develop the ability to leap over tall ideological barriers. In the end, though, they could barely jump over cracks in the sidewalks of D.C. Last week, the committee admitted was many had suspected was inevitable. It had failed. Miserably.
How it failed is anybody's guess since the panel met as far out of the public eye as possible. There were plenty of second-hand opinions and guesses as to what was being discussed, but that was about it. The secrecy was apparently designed to enable lawmakers to discuss options freely that might imperil their electibility status in their home districts and states if the folks back home had a clue about what they were saying.
We're not a fan of government conducted in secret, so from that perspective it's just as well that hiding out from the public didn't improve prospects of success one iota.
And Congress is right back where it started, with a lot of time completely wasted and a time bomb it built ticking away.
"Despite our inability to bridge the committee's significant differences, we end this process united in our belief that the nation's fiscal crisis must be addressed and that we cannot leave it for the next generation to solve," the panel's two co-chairs, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said in a joint statement last week.
Meanwhile, the holiday season is shaping up to be appropriately unpleasant for Congress. It has to take up an expiring payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, plus find some way to head off a potential 27 percent payment cut to doctors who treat Medicare patients. Meanwhile, those nearly across-the-board spending cuts in 2013 will be front and center during the election campaigns of 2012, making the possibilities of a deal even slimmer.
Fortunately, Congress can — and probably will — vote away its 2013 self-imposed penalty.
And that's the problem here. The needle won't move in any direction in Washington, D.C., because the president and Congress don't want to join those long unemployment lines come next November. The nation, once again, takes a back seat to the self preservation of politicians.
And lawmakers are surprised that their job approval rating has fallen to 9 percent? Think about that. For the first time ever, 91 percent of Americans think the Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate are doing a lousy job.
And they're right.
It's about time that we looked across the ocean to Greece and Italy and the other Euro-zone nations whose governments are finding that the world banks are superseding their authority to govern. Take the steps we demand, they're told by the banks, or we cut off your credit line. America is borrowing 40 cents of every dollar the federal government spends. Soon, it will catch up with us and we will be in the same sinking boat.
If America wants to protect its sovereignty, it's going to have to somehow, some way get real leadership in Washington. Otherwise, get ready to bail water.
— The Albany Herald Editorial Board