Up Front

Super Committee: Low Expectations, Great Opportunities

Bill Frenzel

The super committee has a target of $1.2 to 1.5 trillion dollars of savings over the next ten years. Based on the president’s budget estimate early this year of total spending over that period of more than $20 trillion, and deficits of over $7 trillion, that’s no big deal.

However, with big entitlements kept off the table by Democrats and revenues nixed by Republicans, the job gets a little tougher. Even so, it is expected that the super committee can make its quota.

The more important question is whether it can do better. Does it dare put the forbidden entitlements and revenues on the bargaining table? Will it try for the ‘grand bargain’ embraced by Bowles-Simpson and the Gang of 6 or will it be satisfied with the low expectations of the joint Congressional leadership which created it? Those leaders want to delay major decisions until after the 2012 elections.

History proclaims loudly that commissions seldom achieve their goals, much less exceed them. Nevertheless, the fragile state of the economy and the disruptions in the markets are about as good reasons as we will ever have to try for the ‘grand bargain’ now. Policymakers often have difficulty recognizing opportunity when it knocks, but the super committee needs to pay attention now.

A full-scale deficit reduction plan to lower and stabilize the debt offers both long-term fiscal survivability for the country and the kind of certainty that the markets and the economy require right now. The economy is already paying the price for the slow, timid pace of fiscal policy repair.

The super committee was designed and appointed to make its target, not to overachieve. The chances are that it will not raise its sights. But it could deliver an unexpected bonus to the country if it did the whole job instead of being content with a small piece. It ought to try.

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