Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Not a Surprise Dept. (Joint Select Committee edition)

Item: Congressional leaders are heavily involved in negotiations over the Joint Select Committee's product, if any (via Wonkbook).

I don't usually do told-you-so posts, but it's worth going back a minute to the start of the JSC process, when reporters and pundits were trying to read the tea leaves of which Members would be appointed to the "supercommittee", and then once the names were out turning to speculation and analysis about each one. That was the wrong track to take, as I pointed out then:
[T]he way this works now is that the committee will most likely deadlock. It is possible that a larger deal will be struck outside the Joint Select Committee (that is, basically between Barack Obama and John Boehner, with both needing backing from their parties, which is why it's not likely to happen); if that happens before the deadline, then the committee will certainly go along (with perhaps a few dissents) and the debt limit deal procedures will be used to pass it. If not, then we'll get the trigger...after which we'll have attempts to pass something to replace the trigger, but those attempts will not have the parliamentary advantages of a JSC solution.
I wasn't the only one; David Dayen tweeted that the House Democratic picks were "really Nancy Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi, and Nancy Pelosi" (and see his post here). In other words, whether they do the negotiating on her behalf or if she steps in herself, this is about the leadership, not the committee members.

The point is that of course the leadership (and, directly or not, the president) have to get involved because any deal needs the backing of at least a substantial minority of four groups: House Republicans, House Democrats, Senate Democrats, and Senate Republicans, and majorities of at least two of them. And only the leadership can (at least try to) deliver those votes; more to the point, only the leadership knows where the voters are. If it was just up to the handful of Joint Select Committee members, you never know; whatever their prior policy commitments, any politician might choose making a deal (with whatever rewards that come with that) over ideological and partisan loyalty (with its rewards). But there's never been a possibility that the committee could go off on its own either through a single defection or even a full compromise, because if it did that without leadership support the resulting bill wouldn't get very far.

What happens next? I still think a deal is unlikely within the committee structure; they're talking about doing a deal with, uh, carefully massaged numbers that could avoid a (future) sequestration, but I'm not convinced that they'll find that worth doing or have the votes to pass it. But that doesn't mean the end of the world, or even the end of this process -- remember, it's just a creature of Congress, which can change any bit of the set-up whenever it has the votes to do so. Anyway, Stan Collender's speculation on the next steps sounds right to me, so I'll just send you there.

Remember, the only major reason to use the Joint Select Committee process to get a budget deal is that it's protected from needing a Senate supermajority...but in a divided Congress, there's no real reason to expect something to have 218+ votes in the House and the promise of a presidential signature without it having at least 60 votes in the Senate.

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