The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 22, 2011

Our View: Is budget committee designed to fail?


The Free Press

— The budget super-committee established as part of the debt ceiling deal is loaded with partisans, and its members are clearly not the best and brightest of congressional budget minds.

So what were leaders who appointed them thinking?

Critics contend that they were thinking of a way to make sure no compromise or budget deal happens. Unfortunately, that failure will trigger automatic, across-the-board cuts to some programs many Americans may see as more necessary than others. Medicare payments to nursing homes and other health care providers would be automatically cut.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been criticized for leaving Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, of North Dakota, off the committee, even though he has vast knowledge of the budget. Instead, he appointed Sen. Patty Murray, D, Wash., as co-chair of the committee. She is in charge of the re-election of Democratic senators. She’s more a political leader than a budget leader.

At the same time, Rep. John Boehner appointed ideologically pure representatives like Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, who, like the other six Republican members of the committee, has signed a pledge written by Grover Norquist to not raise taxes.

Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan also was not asked to be on the committee.

So both parties appear to be stacking committee with political players instead of budget experts who might, at the very least, consider compromise an option.

The committee is charged with finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years, which will add to the $917 billion in budget cuts Obama and Republicans have already agreed to in the debt ceiling deal.

But Robert Bixby, executive director of the budget watchdog group Concord Coalition, says even that amount of deficit reduction is only about half of the grand deal Boehner and Obama were working on before the debt-ceiling deal.

He notes that the $2 trillion target in deficit reduction still will not deal with the larger issues of taxes or new revenue and/or cuts to entitlement programs. The automatic cuts, should the committee fail, also are projected not to significantly impact those two items.

There, of course, is an opportunity for the budget committee to take its mandate seriously, and come up with a balanced plan that satisfies the constituencies of both parties. And there may be some incentive to do that with the automatic cuts hanging over the committee’s head, some very severe, like a 10 percent cut in defense.

Bixby urges the American people to weigh in and contact members of the committee. We endorse that idea as well. While there may be partisans on this committee, their duty should always be to country first, party second.