The Washington Post columnists on the Supercommittee

Hal Singer —  22 November 2011

My apologies to TOTM readers for taking last week off. A firm retreat in Phoenix followed by a hearing in Oklahoma City really puts a crimp on one’s fun time. In the meantime, the BCS announced that it is considering eliminating the automatic-qualification offers to BCS conference champions. The ACC and Big East must not be pleased. Proof that what gets written on this blog has a significant (and positive) impact on the world around us.

Joking aside, in Washington this week, the Supercommittee designed to solve the nation’s budget crisis is dominating the headlines. One wonders whether Washington Post writers who follow economic affairs coordinate their opinions. Within a day of the Supercommittee’s announced failure, at least three prominent columnists have reached the identical opinion regarding who is to blame for the Supercommittee’s failure: President Obama. Today, Michael Gerson writes “The supercommittee failed primarily because President Obama gave a shrug.” In another column, Ezra Klein writes “There’s not much we can do, they [the Obama administration] say, in a world where congressional Republicans won’t agree to a reasonable deal. In most cases, that’s true. In this case, it’s really not.” Klein questions why Obama never embraced the Bipartisan Fiscal Commission report (aka the “Bowles-Simpson report”). Finally, in yesterday’s Post, Robert Samuelson writes “The reason we cannot have a large budget deal is that Americans haven’t been prepared for one. The president hasn’t educated them, and so they can’t support what they don’t understand.” Samuelson explains that if we don’t address these entitlement programs, their costs will nearly double as a share of national income, which will displace spending in other areas or necessitate further tax increases or both.

If these opinions flowed exclusively from right-of-center columnists, then they could be discounted as political posturing. While Gerson was the lead speech writer for George W. Bush, Klein and Samuelson are hardly batting from the right. Will a “consensus” emerge among the center-left that Obama is to blame for the budget crisis, and will it propel Obama to confront the entitlement morass? Or do the political benefits of shirking the entitlement debate outweigh the costs? The lasting power of entitlements stems from the self-reinforcing dependency among the beneficiaries (who come to depend on the program) and the members of the political party protecting the program (who come to depend on the built-in constituency for votes). It would require tremendous leadership and courage for Obama to transcend politics as usual, and to save us from a Greek-like financial calamity. If he is not up for this task, look for the Republican presidential candidates to make Obama’s leadership issue number one in the 2012 election.

P.S. It’s probably best not to bring up budget deficits or Greek-like crises during the Thanksgiving meal. Better for your family to digest the food thoroughly before falling asleep on the couch. When in doubt, talk sports. Here’s a good conversation starter: When was the last time we cared about the Detroit Lions this late into the season?

3 responses to The Washington Post columnists on the Supercommittee


    I think to some extent the failure of the supercommittee to reach an accord is a direct function of the process used to select its members.

    The membership was chosen by their respective party leaderships.

    BY CONTRAST, if each party had been allowed to choose six members from the opposing side to sit on the committee, a compromise would have been far more likely.


    There is no deficit crisis.


    I agree that Gerson and Samuelson blame Obama.

    But Ezra Klein heaps more blame on the Republicans on the Supercommittee than he does Obama. In another article, he states that, “If by ‘at fault’ we mean ‘unwilling to compromise,’ we can do better than listen to the self-serving remarks of the players. We can look hard at the movement in the actual plans…And if you look at the numbers, it’s pretty easy to see which party moved further towards a compromise. Hint: It’s the one that named Sen. Max Baucus as one of its six key negotiators.” He then goes on to discuss why the Republicans of the Supercommittee are the ones to blame.

    I think overall Obama will emerge from this unscathed. Everyone knows who is responsible – Congress, far and away. While it could be that Obama should have been more proactive during the process, his assertion that he will veto any attempt to undo the automatic spending “cuts” (really, they’re just reductions in proposed increases) is a smart political maneuver. With this, he may even come out of this mess looking more attractive to centrists (at least compared with Congress).