A lesson on accountability

Updated

by Michael Smerconish

Permit me a final word tonight about accountability.

Today was to have been the date by which the Super Committee put forth a plan to cut the debt. They failed to reach an accord, triggering an automatic $1.2 trillion in cuts beginning in 2013.

This was the third attempt at averting a national crisis. Simpson-Bowles was the first. After about a year of invested time, that bi-partisan Commission comprised of 18 members could not get the requisite 14 votes to force congressional action on their recommendations.

One year ago next month, the commission co-chairs released their draft recommendations. No stone was left unturned - no special interest left unscarred.

Their recommendations were described as a list of the third-rail issues of American politics. Federal workers were to be cut. The cost of participating in veterans and military health care increased. The age of Social Security eligibility raised. And the defense department cut. Simpson-Bowles would also have reformed the tax code in ways often contemplated in Washington, but never accomplished. Many longstanding tax credits and deductions would have been eliminated.

After the failure of Simpson Bowles, President Obama and Speaker Boehner attempted to work out a grand bargain. It was reported at the time that the two sides forged common ground on a two-stage strategy for raising the debt limit and cutting more than $4 trillion out of the federal budget through 2021.

Reportedly, that plan would have included unprecedented cuts in agency spending, including at the Pentagon, and significant changes to Medicare and Social Security, the biggest drivers of future borrowing - a major concession for Obama and other Democrats but those negotiations collapsed last July and quickly denigrated into finger pointing.

As a result, efforts to increase the debt ceiling were thrown into chaos. And it was the subsequent debt ceiling negotiations that gave rise to the super committee, which is how we’ve come full circle, back to where we are now, with lots of time having run off the clock and not much to show for it.

So, what do the three efforts at addressing the national debt have in common - besides failure? And by the way, I could say four efforts if I include the bipartisan Senate “Gang of Six.” None has resulted in a definitive congressional vote.

After over nineteen months of work on arguably the most important issue of the day, voters next November currently lack a scorecard. We cannot assess our individual members’ behavior in office on the most important issue facing the nation.

Sure, we can paint with broad strokes. We can generalize based on the parties. And we can look at press releases and public comments by individual members.

But that’s not enough. We’re owed more. We deserve to know how what each member of the House and Senate is prepared to do about the debt, not just what sound bites they offer.

There is a reason we call you legislators. Please start voting so we the voters are informed when we go to the polls next November. 


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A lesson on accountability

Updated