Conventional wisdom holds that if the Super Committee does not come up with a plan to reduce the federal deficit by November 23, that failure will trigger $1.2 trillion in budget cuts. While this is useful shorthand, the reality is more complex. What's the importance of November 23rd?
It's the deadline by which the Super Committee must vote on a report and legislative language or lose the special privileges that ease consideration by the House and Senate. These privileges are particularly important in the Senate, where any recalcitrant Senator can hold up proceedings absent the special provisions. Failure to meet the deadline is not fatal: each chamber could re-enact special rules (similar to those in the Budget Control Act) to allow debate to move forward.
But, there's a curious provision in the law. Assuming the report and legislative language are approved by the Super Committee on Nov. 23, the law doesn't require them to be submitted to key elected officials until December 2, 2011 -- ten days later. Why the gap? Some time could be eaten up by the three calendar days allocated to Super Committee members who want to express additional views in the report. And if amendments are agreed to by the Committee, it may take some time to edit the legislative or report language reflect those changes. The December 2nd date places a drop dead date to any scrivener work.
Whenever the final draft is finished, the Super Committee is required to "promptly" make the report, legislative language, and vote available to the public. While we agree the public has a right to see the finished product, we also should be able to see final drafts. Specifically, the proposed report and legislative language should be available to the public on the Super Committee's website at least 72 hours before the committee vote. Some may argue that politicians only work well under a deadline, and the bill will keep changing right up until midnight. That's not entirely true, and brings me to my second point.
Even if the legislative language and report is voted on by midnight on November 23rd, much of the work will have to be completed before then. The Super Committee is not allowed to vote on any version of the report, recommendations, or legislation unless CBO estimates of its effect on the deficit are available for consideration by all members of the Super Committee at least 48 hours prior to the vote -- no later than midnight on November 21st. CBO will likely need significant time before then to come up with a score.
The Super Committee proposals are already being debated in public, but in a leaked, bastardized, dumbed-down form. We should remember that the Budget Control Act and the Super Committee Rules are only as enforceable as our political leaders want them to be. While there's still time left -- and in the hope of regaining some credibility -- the Super Committee should open its doors to the public.