By Michael Collins
Wall Street and the big banks owe $1.5 trillion for the bailout (at least). The Super Congress needs to cut $1.5 trillion over ten years. Get the money from Wall Street and cancel the Super Congress. Problem solved.
Last month’s debt ceiling crisis was resolved when Congress and the Obama administration made a deal to cut trillions in federal spending over the next ten years. Congress identified the easy cuts, the low hanging fruit so to speak, for a total of nearly $1.0 trillion. At the same time, Congress and the White House created the “Super Congress” committee of six senators and six representatives charged with cutting another $1.5 trillion. (Image: Lucy White with permission)
The committee has unparalleled power to draft legislation, without the normal legislative processes of debate, deliberation, modification, and amendments. If seven of the twelve committee members vote in favor of the budget cutting legislation by the November 23 deadline (see chart in appendix III), the bill will be submitted to the entire Congress for an up or down vote. The bill will not be subject to any modification or change. Debate will be very limited. (Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction Text-pdf)
A Lose–Lose Deal for Citizens
The Super Congress committee is a lose-lose deal for citizens. If the committee produces legislation that is passed into law, that law will be based on a violation of any number of democratic processes. If the committee fails to produce legislation then watch for another round of downgrades from the credit rating agencies that brought us the real estate bubble and the economic collapse.
The legislation that created this committee surrenders unrestrained authority to the committee of twelve. This excludes the input and votes of the remaining Senators and members of the House of Representatives in the process of cutting the federal budget.
The goal is to improve the economy and help citizens. It will do neither. By cutting government spending this way, the bill will inevitably take money out of the economy and cost jobs for public employees and government contractors. Cutting benefits, it will also harm citizens by reducing their ability to access basic services.
A majority of the House and Senate voted to create this committee, a compromise between the White House and reactionary leadership in the Republican and Democratic parties.
Did we elect these people to create illogical, harmful legislation as a solution to the crisis that many of them created in the first place?
We live in a world where public servants assume the role of autocratic masters without any regard to the realities of our current situation. The people are reduced to mere spectators watching the elected in crowd accumulate yet more power and operate without citizen input.
The committee is stacked to protect the status quo
The status quo is quite simply the following: corporate subsidies; ongoing bailouts for Wall Street; endless war; and, the unrestrained growth of the national security state. None of this is on the table for the vaunted Super Congress.
The committee was appointed by the Democratic and Republican leaders in the United States House of Representatives and Senate. One line of reasoning argues that the six to six split of Republicans and Democrats is a formula for stalemate. A more cynical view is that there is a “ringer” on the Democratic side who will vote with the highly conservative Republican faction. A third outcome is that there is an underlying unity on the committee. This will lead to a compromise “sacrifice” that will appear to be across the board but, In fact, favor those at the very top of the economy.
Let’s look at some evidence of political philosophy according to the voting records of the committee members. Republican members include Senators Kyl (AZ), Portman (OH), and Toomey (PA). The Republican Representatives are Camp and Upton (MI) and Hensarling (TX). Democratic Senators include Baucus (MT), Kerry (MA), and Murray (WA). Democratic Representatives are Becerra (CA), Clyburn (SC), and Van Hollen (MD).
Using the decades old Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) ratings and those of the American Conservative Union, we see a strong ideological split. Each organization rates members of Congress on a set number of bills each year to determine their loyalty to liberal or conservative causes. The ADA ratings for the 2nd session of the 110th Congress, 2010, shows the Super Congress Democrats with very liberal ratings averaging 93% (range, 85-100%). The Republicans scored higher on the ACU scale averaging 96% (range, 88-100%)
The supposed ideological strength on each side of the committee represents the argument for deadlock. The liberal–conservative divide will play out in the committee, the argument goes, and there will be no legislation.
The jaundiced view assumes a ringer among the Democrats, someone who will give in to heavy cuts in Social Security and Medicare. While Senator Baucus shows strong support for banking and corporate interests and might be pegged as the cross over vote, he strongly opposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare suggested by Obama’s deficit reduction commission chairs (see December 2, 2010).
A better method of analysis involves looking at the crucial votes by members, the votes that got us into trouble with the federal debt.
The Iraq war and the Wall Street bailouts are the twin pillars of our current troubles. According to figures from the 2012 US Budget (Office of Management and Budget), the total cost of the Iraq was through 2010 was $6.1 trillion (see graph here). Imagine the impact of $6.1 trillion worth of support for Social Security and Medicare, repairing infrastructure, and deficit reduction.
The cost of the bailouts is still being racked up. The SourceWatch Wall Street Bailout table shows that $4.7 trillion disbursed, $3.2 trillion was repaid, and $1.5 trillion is still outstanding.
Support of The Money Party agenda of endless war and bailouts for the wealthiest institutions and individuals represents the essence of our budget troubles. Liberal and conservative voting records are meaningless unless those voting are graded on their efforts against the wholesale looting of the US Treasury.
The real rating scale for members of the Super Congress committee is their record on the Iraq War authorization and the 2008 bailout that created a river of cash for Wall Street. Eight members were in lock step support of the Iraq War and the bailouts. Two opposed the Iraq war very early, Murray and Van Hollen. Hensarling, the Texas Republican, voted against both bailout bills in the House. Becerra was at zero for The Money Party opposing both the war and both House bailout bills (See voting record chart).
The committee members are ten to two in favor of bailouts and nine to three in favor of Iraq. Why should we expect anything to come out of this process other than a reaffirmation of the status quo? War and bailouts (corporate subsidies) will be left alone. It’s a stacked deck. These legislators delivered before, they’ll deliver again. They know who they work for. The best we can hope for is a deadlock and no action.
Here is a solution
The Super Congress committee is tasked with reducing the national debt by $1.5 trillion over ten years. The Wall Street crowd owes Treasury and the Federal Reserve $1.5 trillion for the bailout (Appendix I). Give them three years to pay it back. Conduct a comprehensive audit of supposed repayments to date and add any shortages. Apply that amount to the deficit and there is no need for a Super Congress to denigrate democracy, harm citizens, and engage in revolting histrionics on Capitol Hill. The ten year goal of $1.5 trillion would be taken care of in three years with no threat to Social Security and Medicare.
This type of solution explains why Congress and the White House created the tightly structured Super Congress in the first place. It’s The Money Party protection racket in full swing. Set up a needless goal, bar any discussion of real solutions, and make the public pay for it. Same as it ever was…
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Bailout recipients owe the US Treasury about $0.5 trillion and the Federal Reserve another $1.0 trillion. That money should go directly to the deficit reduction, eliminating the charade of the Super Congress. The Fed put out $4.0 trillion to save Wall Street and the big banks. It has nearly $3.0 trillion of assets. It can afford this with the right structure or the system can just consider it a franchise fee. If the Fed can’t handle it, Congress can legislate it out of existence and create a Bank of the United States or a network of 50 state banks with a limited Fed for the money supply. The assets of a truly national bank would make it viable instantaneously.
Super Congress Proxy Voting is Unconstitutional
Deliberative assemblies in representative democracies have one common characteristic: equality of membership. The elected representatives act as a body to create and deliberate bills that become national law. Not just some of the representatives, all of them take part in this process before a bill becomes law.
When a very few assume the tasks of the many in an assembly, namely the twelve members of the Super Congress committee, the net result is the ceding of deliberative and voting power from the many to the few. That is called proxy voting. It’s fine for shareholder meetings but not a representative democracy.
Robert’s Rules of Order is clear on proxy voting:
“It is unknown to a strictly deliberative assembly, and is in conflict with the idea of the equality of members, which is a fundamental principle of deliberative assemblies. There can be but little use for debate where one member has more votes than another, possibly more than all the others combined.” Roberts Rules of Order
You won’t find proxy voting allowed anywhere in the Constitution. The authorizing legislation was illegal as is any legislation that may flow from the committee since it entails proxy voting.
But this is how they have to do business. The budget cuts forthcoming will be so painful and unpopular, the legislature, as a whole, is afraid to have roll call votes to make them accountable. They need the cover of a contrived national emergency.
Super Congress Timeline
The Congressional Budget Office told Congress that it needed legislative proposals weeks earlier than the initial schedule above. That will shorten the Super Congress deliberation process significantly. CNN September 13 Didn’t the bill authors talk to CBO before they put together this timeline? This is another example of how ridiculous this process is.