One way or another, the Super Committee is going to fail.
If 7 of the 12 members of the joint committee don't approve a plan by November 23, then they will fail in their stated purpose of finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction. Many observers expect this to happen, and it seems increasingly likely, if Wednesday's New York Times story full of leaked innuendo and anonymous quotes is any indication. Unfortunately, anonymous staffer sniping is probably the only real substance we'll have for the coming weeks, since the Super Committee has given up on public hearings.
But even if the Super Committee does reach some agreement over deficit reduction, it'll be a dismal public policy failure. The Super Committee is reported to be considering changes like restructuring the tax code, changing eligibility for basic social services, and creating a new spectrum auction. When someone defends secrecy for the Super Committee, they're saying that it's acceptable to change those public policies without public hearings, and without the accountability that comes with a truly public process.
If the Super Committee does approve those changes, we won't know where the ideas came from, or what motivated the specifics of their decisions. Fundamental changes to American law will emerge from a legislative black box, without justification or public consideration. And if the committee doesn't reach an agreement, we're similarly situated, forced to retroactively guess the terms of the debate.
The Super Committee is trying to create a public policy process where no one can be seen as a villain. A politics where no one is to blame, though, isn't accountability, but collusive storytelling.
Remember the Democrats' anger about the Patriot Act being voted on with no time to read it? Remember Republicans who said the healthcare bill was illegitimate because it was "rammed through?" These same figures are now holding the Super Committee process up as the adult way of creating policy. Many Members of Congress rallied on process grounds against bills they could read, amend, filibuster, bills that constituents wrote letters about, and got a full public hearing. They denounced their opponents, and screamed about illegitimacy over processes that were far more accountable and open.
If the Super Committee doesn't change its conduct, the public (and the rest of Congress) are left with two options. We either get policy created in secret that fundamentally changes American law, or watch as the slow motion Super Committee train wreck fails to move our political discourse forward at all, because the terms of the debate are never aired publicly. Either way the Super Committee fails, and the public loses.
If public policy isn't moving forward, and our politics aren't going to progress either, the best we can hope for is to realize that "debate" and "deliberation" aren't something Congress can outsource.
That will become clear, yet again, as the next few weeks will be full of dueling leaks and accusations, and the media continues to do the best they can to report on the "negotiations." Maybe as we go through this round of public policy through prognostication and innuendo, we'll remember that we don't have to accept the premise that our leaders are trying to sell us: that it's the attention of voters that causes them to fail at their jobs as elected officials.
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