Ways to Defuse the Super Committee's Trigger

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The purpose of the Super Committee was to force Congress to make a deal to trim the deficit, but with lawmakers still immune to compromise, they're  looking for loopholes instead. When the Super Committee was created, it put Republicans and Democrats in the position of either making a deal with each other or face $1.2 trillion in cuts that neither party likes as a way to encourage some bipartisanship. But bipartisanship doesn't play in Washington right now, so instead Congressional leaders could blow the whole thing to smithereens: no deal and no automatic triggers. Here are there options:

Repeal the committee before it even reaches a deal This is the preferred solution of Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California who introduced a bill repealing the Budget Control Act, which created the Super Committee, two weeks ago. Besides scrapping the Super Committee entirely it also jettisons the legislation's trigger, a provision that automatically imposes $1.2 trillion in cuts on defense and entitlement spending. Upon introducing the bill, Waters acknowledged that it has little chance of passing at this time.

If the committee reaches a deal, ignore it This would be unconventional but not unfeasible if you were House Speaker John Boehner. To understand how this works, we asked John Wonderlich, policy director of the transparency group Sunlight Foundation, which has been doggedly tracking the Super Committee's actions. A possible scenario would be if the committee agreed on a proposal with, say, tax hikes and Boehner balked. "Boehner is one person who could nuke the whole process by getting his colleagues to change the House rules," said Wonderlich. "Yes, the House is bound to vote up or down on what the Super Committee proposes because they bound themselves to it. But the House can unilaterally unbind itself from having to vote on it." In that scenario, the committee's deficit plan would simply sit in limbo regardless of what the Senate does with it. "I don't think that's likely but it's under Boehner's discretion," said Wonderlich. 

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If the committee doesn't reach an agreement, repeal the trigger This is the stated game plan of Senator John McCain who told reporters at a Capitol press conference Thursday that “If there’s a failure on the part of the super committee, we will be amongst the first on the floor to nullify that provision. Congress is not bound by this — it’s something we passed; we can reverse it.” McCain is steamed about the $500-$600 billion in defense cuts the trigger would prompt.

Replace its recommendation with a separate deficit package A long shot, for sure. If Republicans and Democrats somehow found a way to pass a deal in the House and Senate that the president would be willing to sign, which they haven't been able to do thus far, such a deal would likely repeal any legislative remnants of the Super Committee and render all those secretive, closed-door meetings a waste of time.

Vote down the Super Committee's recommendation The simplest of all solutions. Majorities in the House and Senate can block the recommendation by voting it down after its submitted to Congress. Of course this won't prevent the trigger from taking effect, because the language of the bill stipulates that if Congress doesn't reduce the budget by at least $1.2 trillion, sequestration takes place. Still, it will torpedo any sort of plan the committee chalked up.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.