Super committee designed to fail, says CU-Boulder political science professor

September 13, 2011

The congressional “super committee,” a joint select committee of six Democrats and six Republicans, begins work this week on creating a bi-partisan plan to cut at least $1.2 trillion from the federal budget by the end of the year. Many political analysts, including University of Colorado Boulder’s Ken Bickers, says this is a daunting task that has little chance of success.

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Sept. 13, 2011

The congressional “super committee,” a joint select committee of six Democrats and six Republicans, begins work this week on creating a bi-partisan plan to cut at least $1.2 trillion from the federal budget by the end of the year. Many political analysts, including University of Colorado Boulder’s Ken Bickers, says this is a daunting task that has little chance of success.

“Well, I think structurally the super committee is set up probably for failure. It’s a 12-member body - six from the House; six from the Senate; Republicans from each body; Democrats from each body. Which means that to move something out of that committee somebody is going to have to break ranks and vote with the other side. (:23) There’s going to be enormous pressure on the delegation on the committee from each party not to break ranks.” (:32)

Professor Bickers is chair of the political science department at CU-Boulder. He says he doesn’t anticipate the partisan political climate of the two parties to be any different in the fall than what Americans witnessed during the debate over raising the debt limit.

“This is a game of chicken. The Democrats are in one car, the Republicans are in another car and they are careening down the road at each other and at stake is this set of spending programs, both on the defense side and the domestic side. (:13) The side that blinks first will get crucified by its base for having blinked. The side that doesn’t blink will be treated as the victor in that process. (:23) Neither side wants to blink. And then it’s a game of trying to lay blame on the other side for disregarding the importance of whatever that set of the spending programs is.” (:36)

Bickers says the extreme partisan politics we see today is not just a problem for Congress but for voters as well.

“The country is very polarized. This is not just a problem of Congress. This is a problem of the electorate. We see as much polarization as any time as I can remember in my time in observing American politics. (:15) People are seeing the problems of the country in very different ways. And the problem is that there really is very little middle ground between those two positions and you see that in the way in which our national politics is playing out.” (:28)

And the way the national politics is playing out is something Bickers says hasn’t happened in America in a very long time.

“What we have today is something that’s very rare in American history which is that the most conservative Democrat in the Congress is still more liberal than the most liberal Republican. There is no overlap between the two parties in terms of their voting behavior in American politics. (:18) And that’s, so far as I know, really the first time probably since the Civil War that we’ve seen a situation where there isn’t any ideological overlap between the two major parties.” (:31)

The committee's recommendations must be voted on by Dec. 23. They cannot be amended and will be passed with a simple majority - no filibusters or other parliamentary maneuvering is allowed. President Obama will have the ability to veto the legislation. If Congress cannot agree on the committee’s recommendations then on Jan. 15, 2012, $1.2 trillion in cuts automatically takes effect with most coming from defense and entitlement program budgets.

 

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