You thought perhaps that Thanksgiving was all about Grandma’s cranberry relish, Aunt Mae’s pumpkin pie and a nap on the sofa while a football game hums in the background. Not this year. The Super Committee, the 12 Senators and Representatives charged with saving the Republic, may finally prove decisively that turkeys can’t fly. The Committee, ceded the authority of the rest of the Congress in order to come up with a deficit, budget and revenue deal, is due to report November 23 just in time to spoil the real turkey day. Gobble, gobble.
Senior lawmakers are already predicting failure for the scheme that was hatched as part of the dubious deal earlier this year to raise the debt ceiling. It looks like the Gang of Twelve won’t fare any better than the other 523 members of Congress in crafting a sensible, bipartisan plan to control federal spending without destroying the still fragile U.S. economy.
Give some serious credit to guys like Idaho’s Mike Simpson and North Carolina’s Heath Shuler for seeming to buck their leadership while calling for the Super Committee to “go big” with a plan that will actually accomplish something for the long term. Simpson and Shuler are signers, along with 98 other bipartisan House members, of a letter to the committee that urges them to be serious about finding middle ground, while leaving – Thanksgiving-style – nothing off the table. No sign the Super Dozen are listening.
As we edge closer to the actual Presidential Election Year, expect to hear more and more references to two other elections in the 20th Century – 1936 and 1984. In both those years, incumbent presidents – Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan – were facing re-election hampered by high unemployment and a sluggish economy. Both won re-election with historic landslides. (The White House loves this history lesson, you can bet.)
In Roosevelt’s case he squandered his mandate with an ill-consider and historically awful idea about expanding the Supreme Court. Reagan turned his attention to foreign policy. Reagan did little, despite much revisionist history today, to control federal spending. FDR, pushed by his conservative Treasury Secretary Henry Morganthau, got nervous about the growing budget deficits spurred by New Deal spending and he quickly applied the brakes in 1937. The resulting Roosevelt Recession sent unemployment back up and the economy stalled. More agile than any politician today, Roosevelt quickly reversed course and start spending money again to create economic activity.
There is a school of economic thought that holds that the Super Committee would do the economy a favor by failing to concoct a grand plan since any grand plan will ultimately reduce federal spending – think defense – and eliminate many jobs. That may prove to be just the combination of policy solutions that the U.S. economy doesn’t need right now. I’d be happy with almost any plan the Supers deliver before turkey day, because no plan means no certainty, no political direction, more drift and more disillusionment for voters.
Even Greece – Greece? – has found a way to create a new coalition government aimed at addressing that country’s severe fiscal and budget challenges. Enjoy the turkey this year and be thankful for any abundance, but don’t look to Washington for sane and sober thoughts on the future of our economy. Maybe the Super Committee ought to spend Thanksgiving in Athens.