Deficit Committee's Trigger Lock

[ Posted Thursday, November 17th, 2011 – 17:51 UTC ]

Washington is all abuzz these days with talk of the deficit reduction committee (the so-called "supercommittee"). The deficit committee has a deadline which is now less than a week away to produce legislation to cut $1.2 trillion out of the next ten years of federal budgets. Pundits have been predicting they'll fail almost from when the committee was set up, during the last round of brinksmanship over the budget this past summer.

I have no idea whether they'll come up with anything next week or not. Betting on failure seems to be the popular thing to do, but the committee members have been showing some willingness to move closer to a solution in the past few days, so maybe they actually will get seven votes for some plan or another.

If the committee fails, though, there are supposed to be "triggers" pulled -- automatic cuts to both domestic spending and military budgets. But you know what? I am confident that these triggers will never be pulled. To put it another way, these automatic cuts are never going to happen. Oh, sure, there may be some noise about them, accompanied by handwringing and teeth-gnashing inside the Beltway, but I remain confident that the actual budget cuts will never take place.

To begin with, the triggers (to extend the metaphor) will fire a very slow "bullet" indeed. The automatic cuts won't even begin to take place until the 2013 budget year. In other words, Congress will have more than a year to rescind the cuts. Which they will do, either before the election or in the lame duck session after the election (no matter who wins the White House).

Republicans, with hawkish Democrats beside them (Joe Lieberman won't be gone from the Senate until January of 2013, please note), will never let the Pentagon budget be cut by a half-trillion dollars. Especially in an election year. Democrats will likely hold out for also ignoring the automatic domestic spending cuts. Both parties will, at some point, join forces to squelch these cuts altogether.

There is nothing magic about either the "supercommittee" or the "triggers." Both are legislative actions dictated by a bill which was previously voted on by both houses of Congress, and which was signed into law by the president. Both can be changed, amended, or ignored by another bill. It happens all the time, especially on "automatic" budget cuts (see, for instance: the Alternative Minimum Tax "automatic" cuts, which are restored every single year by Congress).

President Obama has said he'll veto any bill which removes the automatic cuts. It may not even matter if he follows through on this pledge or not. Congress, after all, can overrule him with a two-thirds majority. If Republicans and Democrats band together, they would likely be able to put together such a majority.

Republicans will steal a page from the Democratic playbook, and decry military budget cuts as "costing jobs" -- with not a shred of irony, after spending years denouncing the idea that federal spending creates jobs. Democrats will fall back on their "save the sick and the old and the weak" position to champion restoring the domestic spending.

After all the shouting's done, the "trigger" will have a lock on it. The automatic cuts will never happen. The entire thing will go away, after the politicians all have made lots of political hay out of the respective issues.

The automatic cuts will never happen. On that, I am confident. If the deficit committee fails to act, there will be lots of people bemoaning the triggered cuts as some sort of disaster. But remember, Congress has over a full year to change its mind, before one dollar actually gets cut. In an election year, no less.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


14 Comments on “Deficit Committee's Trigger Lock”

  1. [1] 
    LewDan wrote:


    You may well be right. What's interesting though is that since rescinding the cuts can easily be filibustered by either side it will take bipartisan efforts stop the cuts. And that means each side would have to give the other something in return. Yet each side's sacred-cows are the other side's poison-pills, and like you said it'll be an election year.

    So when it comes to stopping those slow-moving bullets both parties will be damned if they do and damned if they don't. As a result they may just let the cuts happen and try to blame it all on the super-committee.

  2. [2] 
    akadjian wrote:

    The word of the day is "sequestration". Prepare for it. As Jon Stewart said, it combines two of Congress' favorite words: sequestering and castration. :)


  3. [3] 
    akadjian wrote:

    p.s. One sure thing bet ...

    There is 0% chance of sequestration. Why? Because automatic cuts would affect the military, the world's biggest lobbying organization. No matter what happens, there is not a chance in the world of these automatic cuts.

    If Vegas has odds on it, I'd bet it big :)

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    If the deficit committee fails to act, there will be lots of people bemoaning the triggered cuts as some sort of disaster.

    Debt Ceiling Debacle Redux... :D

    Your commentary outlines perfectly what I have always said...

    There ain't no difference between Democrats and Republicans, sans their respective 'gods'...

    "Your good and your evil use the same methods to achieve the same goals."
    -Yarnek, STAR TREK, The Savage Curtain

    As an aside, I think THAT quote is the most oft used quote of mine in here... :D


  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    Interesting commentary...

    From a DEMOCRAT, no less...


  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    Once again, Sarah Palin nails it...

    I think everyone here would agree with what Mrs Palin says here.....


  7. [7] 
    dsws wrote:

    One way or another, there will be lots of tiny cuts to non-military discretionary spending. That's where you can find stuff that's hard to explain on a bumper sticker and isn't enough money to have a constituency. I'll even go out on a limb and say that if the supercommittee doesn't get something Congress can vote on, some of the cuts will take the form of triggered sequestrations. Everything big enough to have a powerful lobby, or stupid enough that it wins only bumper-sticker arguments, will get exceptions. Everything that's in the budget only because it's worthwhile will get cut.

    Sooner or later, taxes will be increased on the middle class and the poor. Until and unless there's some sort of currently-unimaginable sea change in the political outlook of the population at large, taxes will not be raised on the rich.

  8. [8] 
    DerFarm wrote:

    While trying to understand the supercommittee blockade, I've been looking at the membership of the SuperCommittee and I think I see something strange.

    Is it only me, or are the Democrats on the committee more "safe" in their electoral potential than the Republicans?

    Murray: Re-elected in the R landslide of 2010. That in and of itself is impressive. Her opponent (Rossi) was not a headcase like Angle in Nevada.

    Bacchis: Senator since 1978 with the last election won with 73% (2008). I don't care what the political situation is, if you can win by 73%, the opposition has to know it ain't gonna walk on ...

    Kerry: 'Nuff said. Ya'll might not like him outside MA, but I doubt the OTHER JFK could unseat him now.

    Kyl: Last election won with 53%+. Not all that good for someone who won the previous election with 79%. Kyl has gotten crosswise some of the radical conservatives on immigration. He's not for it, but he doesn't seem to want to kill everyone. Up for election this year. I wonder if he asked for this assignment?

    Portman: Elected in 2010 to fill a retired seat, Portman is up for re-election in 2014. If I were in this seat, given the state of Ohio politics and the potential backlash against 2010 R's I can't think that this assignment is plum. Presumably, there are factors going on here that make this more of a gimme than not.

    Pat Toomey: Just got over a bruising battle in PA, against an opponent who was ostrasizied by the party apparatchiks. Won by about 80K votes out of 4million cast. I wouldn't think this a safe seat, but it doesn't come up again until 2016.

    Information on vote counts and opponents comes from the pages in Wikipedia, but I get confused easily to you should double check.

    Next the House

  9. [9] 
    DerFarm wrote:

    As above The House. The house membership appears much safer than the Senate membership for the R's. The House Dem's would require the 2nd coming to be defeated ... and even then it would be close.

    Becerra: 31st CA district. I don't think the people in this district can SPELL Republican ... much less vote for one. Becerra's only opposition will come from within the Dem party, don't hold your breath.

    Clyburn: Won his last election with 65%. In South Carolina. In 2010. Right. Hell, this district voted for Greene.

    VanHollen: won with 73% in 2010. Good thing Clyburn is in SC. No way he could beat this dude.

    Hensarling: pushes all the right buttons, causes, and issues. A running litany of TP concerns, without the TP baggage (he defeated Michele Bachmann for his R house leadership position). This maybe the only place in America where the Libertarian is Hispanic. 66% winner in the last elections. This one is safe.

    Upton: Near as I can see, this one is safe. The district is compact, 86% white and 50-50 Urban/Rural in SW Michigan. He has been challenged twice from R's on the right and has had no problems defeating them. His closest call to a Dem was from an art gallery owner. Really??? and ART GALLERY OWNER? An altogether good place to be for someone who doesn't appear to be TP.

    Camp: 4th District has been R since the 70's. North-Central Michigan. Mostly small towns, mostly white, mostly conservative but doesn't appear to be rabid, meateating Idaho types. The only scandal I can find is that he won't grant his wife a Jewish divorce. While this is VERY significant to Orthodox Jews (which Camp appears to be) it don't mean much in Central Michigan.

  10. [10] 
    DerFarm wrote:

    Bottom Line:

    Dems in the Senate: Tight. No apparent Problems.
    Reps in the Seante: Not so much. Probably not a problem but it FEELS wonky.

    Dems in the House: Forget it. You beat one of these guys and you should immediately start running for King of the world.
    Reps in the House: Make that King of the Universe.

  11. [11] 
    dsws wrote:

    The Democrats want a deal. So they put people on the committee who are in a position to make one without being driven out of office for it, even if it's unpopular with their base.

    The Republicans, not so much.

  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    The Democrats want a deal.

    Yet Republicans put taxes on the table and Dems walk away..

    Dems want a deal???

    Not so much...


  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:

    Couldn't have said it better myself.

    If Obama really cared about this country *AND* the Democratic Party, he would step aside...


  14. [14] 
    Michale wrote:


    That ^^^^^ Should have been posted to the FTP Commentary....


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