The following is Ron Haskins’ contribution to a two-part op-ed co-authored with Deborah Weinstein originally published in Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity. The full piece can be found on their website.
The failure of the budget “super committee” shows yet again that Congress and the president are unlikely to reduce the federal deficit without some sort of external force that adds necessity to the normal legislative process. The only serious action on the deficit so far resulted from the necessary raising of the debt ceiling early last August. Republicans seized the opportunity by threatening to block an increase in the debt ceiling unless spending was cut to reduce the deficit. To avoid default, the president and Congress enacted legislation that cut spending by $.9 trillion over ten years and established the super committee to take another $1.5 trillion bite out of the deficit.
The debt ceiling agreement anticipated that the super committee would fail to reach accord. Thus, the agreement provided for an automatic reduction of $1.2 trillion in spending over ten years in such a case. So unless Congress and the president wiggle out from under the automatic reduction, over $2 trillion in debt reduction will have been achieved this year. That’s about a third of what is needed, but a third is progress. And this progress seems to have been made without deep cuts in programs for the poor.
The next opportunity for serious action on the deficit will occur next fall as the expiration date of the Bush tax cuts approaches. There is likely to be another ugly battle as Republicans try to preserve all the tax cuts and Democrats try to end tax cuts for the rich. This battle may well expand into another grand negotiation over taxes and spending. For those hoping to protect programs for the poor, the battle continues.