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Reuters: Supers Had Chance To Compromise

This is Reuters exegesis on the Super Committee’s failure:

Insight: Super committee had glimpse of elusive compromise

By Richard Cowan, Thomas Ferraro, Tim Reid and Donna Smith
Tue Nov 22, 2011

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – It didn’t seem like mission impossible just two weeks ago.

Inside a private room on the first floor of the U.S. Senate, seven members of Washington’s debt "super committee," munching beef jerky and talking taxes, thought for the first time a deal might be at hand.

Nine days after that November 7 meeting, it was all but over. Accusations of media leaks and bad faith had led to a fatal breakdown of trust among committee members fundamentally divided over the ideology of taxation and spending.

Trust that had been so painstakingly built by the six Republicans and six Democrats since the panel first began meeting nine weeks earlier unraveled at alarming speed.

By November 16 the super committee was essentially dead, according to interviews with senior aides and officials with intimate knowledge of the talks.

The pivotal moments came on November 7 and 8 in the private first floor office belonging to the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Senator Max Baucus, one of the Democrats who sat on the debt panel.

The November 7 evening meeting, which lasted nearly three hours, offered the first glimmer of hope that the panel might succeed in reaching a deficit-cutting agreement to meet its mandate: find at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings over 10 years.

"November 7 was kind of like the climax so to speak," one Republican congressional aide with knowledge of the negotiations said.

Inside Baucus’s finance committee hideaway were seven of the 12 panel members: Republicans Pat Toomey, Rob Portman, Fred Upton and Dave Camp; and Democrats John Kerry, Max Baucus and Chris Van Hollen. The seven lawmakers convened at a critical moment for the debt panel, as the November 23 deadline for a deal was just over two weeks away.

So these seven formed a super duper committee? (Though do note that they conveniently left out the truly idiotic Democrats, like Ms. Murray and Mr. Clyburn.)

Just like that evening, for the previous nine weeks both sides had been meeting largely in secret and had been relatively successful in keeping their discussions private and out of the press. In the coming days that was going to change.

Up to this point, trust had been built, and nurtured, on a committee formed after the debt limit crisis of the summer.

Kerry and Portman had discovered a mutual passion for cycling and regularly rode together. Committee members would often treat the other panel members to lunch during their meetings in Room 200 in the bowels of the U.S. Capitol.

Four dozen cupcakes were ordered to celebrate the birthday of Senator Patty Murray on October 11, but they were not destined for the super committee. The panel did not meet until the following day so the chocolate and red velvet cakes were sent to her office and eaten by her staff – although the panel members still sang Happy Birthday to their Democratic co-chair on October 12

How pathetic. Whatever happened to to our politicians being grownups?

After a first meeting on September 8, the next three weeks were taken up with discussions over how many meetings should be held, and when and where. Murray and congressman Jeb Hensarling, her Republican co-chair, had to resolve who got to hold the gavel. In the end a compromise – something very rare in Washington – was agreed. They were to alternate it.

They spent three weeks on who would have the gavel? Then they decided to alternate it? And we wonder why the country is in trouble?

When the November 7 Baucus meeting began, the seven members there were ready to get down to brass tacks – although the session did not start well, according to both sides.

It opened with a discussion of a new Democratic proposal to raise taxes by $1 trillion, cut spending by $1 trillion, and spend another $300 billion to stimulate the economy…

At the mention of $1 trillion in tax hikes, according to aides, two of the Republicans threw up their hands. One thumped the table with his fist to emphasize their adamant opposition…

But then things got interesting. Toomey, a conservative, offered a new proposal that for the first time for a debt committee Republican included the prospect of revenue increases, as well as spending cuts, as a way to start cutting America’s massive $15 trillion national debt

The Democrats immediately rejected Toomey’s proposal on revenues as too low, but Kerry began to explore the idea of building on it.

Kerry threw in the "mutual idea" of means-testing Medicare benefits, the federal insurance program for the elderly and disabled. Soon the discussion turned to how they could build on the Toomey plan, through other measures such as raising Medicare premiums and the sale of federal leases.

What initially became hardline opposition to the Toomey proposal became an opportunity for negotiation. "Maybe we can work a deal," the Republican aide quoted Kerry as saying. "There was real optimism when they walked out of the room," the aide added.

But that was the high water mark for the debt super committee. Things were to change quickly. "The Toomey offer was the beginning of the end," a senior Democratic aide said.

So their first ‘serious’ meeting was also their last.

Democrats say that the following day, Nov. 8, Toomey’s staff leaked details of his proposal to The Washington Post before they had had a chance to fully consider it.

And because of this they had to end the discussion. What a laugh. But they have to find some way to blame the Republicans for the debacle.

By Veterans’ Day, Nov. 11, talks of the whole panel were petering out

On that Friday, Murray walked to Hensarling’s Capitol Hill office and said Democrats would accept the "framework" of the Toomey offer, but still wanted to negotiate how to get to his total dollar figure

But the following day, Republicans began to backtrack from any meaningful revenue offers, Democratic aides say. Murray also became exasperated by Republican claims that no counter-offer to the Toomey proposal had been made.

So on Wednesday, Nov. 16, Democratic staff were ordered to leak details of Murray’s counter-offer to the media.

What was meant to be a secretive debt panel was now being undone by leaks. By then, aides say, trust had evaporated, and the work of the super committee was essentially over.

What children they are. Why should this be secret? Whatever happened to transparency in government?

When John Boehner, the Republican House Speaker, and Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate leader, met that week in Boehner’s office, some thought they would launch an eleventh-hour rescue. The two met for just 15 minutes – and the work of the debt panel was barely mentioned.

Because the ‘non-fix’ was in from the start.

Perhaps there is only one member of the committee that can put its failure into some perspective as the blame game of why it collapsed begins.

At an early breakfast meeting of the panel, Democrat James Clyburn, a veteran of the Civil Rights movement, rebuked his fellow committee members when they kept saying how hard it would be to strike a deal.

"Do you want to know what’s hard?" Clyburn asked. "Desegregating South Carolina in the 1960s. I met my wife in jail."

Notice that Clyburn wasn’t even part of the ‘super duper committee.’ So how could he put it in perspective?

By the way, did you know that Clyburn was in the civil rights movement. Or that John Kerry served in Vietnam?

This article was posted by Steve on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011. Comments are currently closed.

2 Responses to “Reuters: Supers Had Chance To Compromise”

  1. untrainable says:

    …during their meetings in Room 200 in the bowels of the U.S. Capitol.
    We all know what is produced in the bowels… don’t we.

    Four dozen cupcakes were ordered to celebrate the birthday of Senator Patty Murray
    So a 12 person committee needed 48 cupcakes… then just gave them to some underlings because they didn’t bother to show up that day?
    I hope they were cheaper than those delicious $16 D.C. muffins we’ve heard so much about. That would be $768 for cupcakes that they never even got to see.

    Petty observations. Perhaps. Indicative of the farce that our government has become. YES. Think about this. They are arguing about whether or not we can spend money we don’t have. Whether or not we should borrow money that we can’t pay back. So what’s the next argument? Let’s coordinate a blue ribbon panel to decide if the sky should legally be referred to as “blue”.

  2. Reality Bytes says:

    I didn’t know Lurch went into politics. Oh wait sorry, that’s John Kerry reporting for duty as usual.

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