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WILLIAMS: Why the supercommittee cannot fail

- - Sunday, November 13, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In their infinite wisdom following a contentious budget showdown just a few months prior, Congress and the White House silently swore they didn't want to face that political debacle again. So 523 elected "responsible" lawmakers surrendered their roles as committee chairs, appropriations cardinals and oversight hawks to an intrepid 12 colleagues to begin the work they so eagerly avoided. That shifting sound you hear is our Founding Fathers turning over in their graves.

The die is cast. And for reasons I will explain, there is ample evidence that leads to but one conclusion. For the good of the Congress, the president and the nation writ large, this band of 12 cannot fail.

To be clear: It's entirely possible that the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction can fail to meet its mandated purpose of recommending reductions from $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion from the federal budget by Thanksgiving. That's a tall order. But its members must not fail if we expect our governing institutions to retain what little credibility that remains among them.

The first casualty of an empty supercommittee is our nation's economic health. Set aside for the moment the sheer need for austerity. If the panel were to miss its mark, economic chaos could ensue. Moody's Investors Service already has lowered our nation's stellar credit rating. And just last week, the credit house said that, while no downgrade is automatic, the supercommittee would serve it and Congress well by tackling big budget busters such as entitlement reform. Put another way, Congress should get out of its own way.

Not long ago, Democrats led by the president blamed consumer demand as the key inhibitor to economic growth in 2011. Then Republicans piled on and said it was looming uncertainty that paralyzed investors and businesses alike, freezing precious capital. Even President Obama later subscribed to that reasoning. So why is it now, when both parties clearly have their fingers on the crux of the matter, they are singularly responsible for that very uncertainty and yet refuse to execute the steps to end it?

Another reason why failure would hurt the entire process is that the alternative isn't that calamitous. If the supercommittee is incapable of moving its plan through both chambers of Congress, then the fallback plan that triggers automatically — a modest $1.2 trillion cut — by all accounts pales in comparison. Let's be serious: Every interest group in Washington is running around both privately and publicly declaring the so-called backstop is far better than anything the deficit panel could produce.

When lawmakers designed the sequestered amount, they didn't envision a $1.2 trillion cut as wimpy. (That alone should tell you something about congressional intentions — they fail to grasp the sheer weight of the federal deficit and debt.) The idea behind the "alternative" was to make it so unappealing that the 12 would be forced to reach tough decisions. Now, they can throw up their hands in feigned frustration and let some orphaned amount kick in with little repercussion.

A third reason is political. What message does it send to the electorate that not only could Congress not responsibly address its duties, but even a subgroup with specific tasks failed miserably? What do such actions say for future "blue ribbon commissions"? Our worst fears would be confirmed. Even when lawmakers remove the cacophony of multiple voices and agendas, and drill down to allegedly bipartisan officials with one joint goal in mind, failure seems to be the only product.

Much hangs in the balance for this Super 12. And while I sense the American people know this is serious business with serious consequences, I'm not so sure the same sense of urgency is shared by our political leaders. Markets don't lie, and they definitely don't wear political stripes. Rather, they simply punish or reward. This country is due some good news for a change from Wall Street. Congress and the president can help usher in that positive outcome just in time for Christmas.

• Armstrong Williams, author of the 2010 book "Reawakening Virtues," is on Sirius Power 128 from 7-8 p.m. and 4-5 a.m. Mondays through Fridays. Become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/arightside, and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/arightside. Read his content on RightSideWire.com.