Supercommittee Failure Confirms What Most Americans Believe About Congress

The way the Supercommittee was set up to fail demonstrates why public disgust with Congress is rightfully at a high point

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The failure of the Supercommittee, and by extension Congress, to come to any agreement about how to deal with the nation's fiscal problems came as no surprise to most of the American people who have pretty much lost faith in Congress' ability to do its job.

A Quinnipiac poll released Monday found that by a 45 point margin Americans expected the Supercommittee to fail. Only a quarter of those questioned thought there was a chance Congress would reach an agreement.

It turns out that the public is pretty smart. People have been disappointed so often by Congress they don't really expect much.

Although congressional leaders prattled endlessly about failure not being an option, they set up the Supercommittee to fail. Driven by partisan division, political posturing and a win at all costs mentality, Republican and Democratic leaders selected members for the committee who had little record of working across the aisle. They didn't go with Sens. Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, and Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, who led the bi-partisan Gang of Six effort.

Instead, they picked people like Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and strongly anti-tax House Republicans like Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Dave Camp of Michigan, who both served on the president's debt commission and voted against its proposal.

It was an incredible missed opportunity to put our fiscal house in order. The 12-member Supercommittee was empowered to make cuts to any part of the budget or recommend any tax or entitlement changes. And if its members had come up with a deal, the House and Senate would have been required to vote on it without making changes.

To quote political sage and comedian Jon Stewart, "You know Congress, this is why people don't like you...Is there anything that these folks can actually get done?"

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was even more scathing in his criticism, calling the Supercommittee's failure a "damning indictment of Washington's inability to govern this country."

The public disgust with Congress is reflected in recent Gallup polls which have tracked Congressional job approval at 13 percent for the past two months, tying an all-time Gallup low.

Even members of Congress are revolted. Moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine released a statement calling the Supercommittee "a monumental waste of time and opportunity" that "represents yet another regrettable milestone in Congress's steady march toward abject ineffectiveness."

"It paints a portrait of dysfunction that further crystallizes for the American people their government's incapacity for producing solutions to our major challenges."

Despite various stories about eleventh-hour meetings and last ditch efforts it didn't even look like the Supercommittee tried all that hard. The panel hadn't formally met in weeks and some of its members, along with much of Congress, started to leave town for Thanksgiving over the weekend.

President Obama, who had a hands off approach to the Supercommittee's work, appeared in the White House briefing room on Monday evening to declare in a brief statement that Democrats were willing to offer concessions but Republicans in Congress "have refused to listen to the voices of reason and compromise that are coming from outside of Washington."

"So far, that refusal continues to be the main stumbling block that has prevented Congress from reaching an agreement to further reduce our deficit," Obama asserted.

Presented by

Linda Killian is a Washington journalist and a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Her book The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents was published in January 2012 by St. Martin's Press.

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