The Supercommittee Worked So Well That Republicans Want Another One

John Boehner's wants a bipartisan group from the House and Senate to negotiate on the shutdown, debt ceiling, and other fiscal issues. Haven't we seen this before?

Remember the Supercommittee? That was the bipartisan group from both chambers of Congress that was set up during the last debt-limit fight. It was supposed to agree to budget cuts; as a motivation, if the panel failed, the nation would endure big automatic budget cuts that affected both parties' priorities. While the debt ceiling was raised, the supercommittee was otherwise a total failure, and the sequestration cuts happened.

So what's the latest volley from House Speaker John Boehner? A new supercommittee. Here's how Roll Call describes it:

House Republicans will bring to the floor a bill to create a bipartisan, bicameral committee to address the current fiscal impasse that has shut down much of the government and threatens a debt default.

A GOP leadership aide said the committee wouldn’t just handle the continuing resolution needed to fund the government. It would have broader jurisdiction similar to the 2011 Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the supercommittee, and would cover the debt limit and other fiscal issues.

A GOP appropriations aide also described the working group as similar to the supercommittee, but on a smaller scale, and without instructions.

Oh, and also: There would be no set schedule for it, although presumably the roughly October 17 deadline for hitting the debt ceiling would create some time pressure. Suzy Khimm notes this would be purely a negotiating group, with no legally binding authority like the supercommittee had.

The point here is to try, once again, to force Democrats to come to the negotiating table so the GOP can extract some sort of concession from them in return for opening the government and raising the debt ceiling. Having shut down the government in a failed attempt to stop Obamacare, Republicans want to save face with something—though they don't seem to know quite what. But they can pass a bill paying federal workers who are on the job, but whose paychecks are postponed, and setting up the committee, then send that to the Senate, where it would perhaps turn up the pressure on Majority Leader Harry Reid and his caucus.

Boehner spoke in front of a podium emblazoned with "#LetsTalk." It's striking how far the debate has come: from Republicans angling to defund Democrats' major legislative achievement of recent years to Republicans just trying to find a lever to force Democrats to talk. 

No sooner had Boehner announced his plan, however, than President Obama called him and tried to quash the idea. According to a White House readout of the call:

The President is willing to negotiate with Republicans—after the threat of government shutdown and default have been removed—over policies that Republicans think would strengthen the country.  The President also repeated his willingness to negotiate on priorities that he has identified including policies that expand economic opportunity, support private sector job creation, enhance the competitiveness of American businesses, strengthen the Affordable Care Act and continue to reduce the nation’s deficit.

For Obama, anything that looks like he's negotiating on the closure and debt ceiling—as the new supercommittee would—is anathema, but he also wants to appear open to talks.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has been keeping track of how many House Republicans say they'd be willing to vote for a "clean" continuing resolution that funds the government without strings attached. Boehner insists such a CR would not pass, but the White House has been daring him to try it and prove it, and the Post's tally is hovering around the magic number of 217 needed to pass.

For the speaker, the new supercommittee might be a way to rally and unite his caucus. On the other hand, with polling showing Republicans taking a harder hit than Democrats over the shutdown and some House members getting wobbly, why would Democrats want to budge now?

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David A. Graham is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers political and global news. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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