Super Committee Deadline Around the Corner

Oct 20, 2011

Occupy Wall Street protests, President Obama's jobs proposal, the Republican presidential debates and other news of the day are overshadowing news coverage of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (Super Committee), but the Nov. 23 deadline is fast approaching for the group of 12 lawmakers to propose a plan to reduce the nation's deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next decade.

Last Friday was the final day for lawmakers to formally submit their suggestions to the Super Committee.  According to news reports, suggestions ranged from those floating around for months such as cuts in entitlement spending such as changes in eligibility for Medicare and Social Security to lesser-known proposals such as early release for prisoners who learn to read.

Everyone has a stake in the committee's recommendations as it will set the stage for how we allocate our nation's resources for years to come. The public still can submit informal recommendations through the end of November. So far, the panel has received more than 175,000. The committee has met mostly behind closed doors, and no one knows what the final recommendations will entail. But, according to reports, special interests have been busy trying to influence the process.

The overwhelming majority of us don't have PACs or high-powered lobbyists to help influence the process. We do have the power of our votes and the hope that lawmakers will do what's best for their constituents and the broader public, rather than special interests.

This drive to reduce the nation's deficits has been in full gear for nearly two years. In early 2010, President Obama appointed the bipartisan National Commission on Deficit Reduction and tasked the group with developing a short- and long-term plan  to reduce the nation's deficit. The task force released a formal report in December 2010 that went nowhere, but two of its guiding principles (shared sacrifice and do no harm to the most vulnerable) have been cited by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Congress passed a deficit reduction plan in August that is the antithesis of these principles and disproportionately focuses on government spending, as opposed to revenues, and threatens many programs that benefit low-income people and their families. Now, the Super Committee is tasked with completing the second phase of the August deal, with everything from programs that support workers in advancing their job skills, education and training to those that provide assistance to families in poverty standing as potential targets for cuts.

Republicans on the House Education and Workforce Committee chaired by John Kline (R-Minn) have recommended significantly decreasing Pell Grants--a move that would hurt millions of hard-working students who rely on the federal program to earn a postsecondary credential and advance in the workforce.

Another worrisome proposal would cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called Food Stamps) by $4 to $5 million. A record 45.75 million people received assistance through SNAP in May of this year. The program is responsible for keeping almost 4 million Americans out of poverty in 2010. Cuts on this scale would have real, immediate effects on families' ability to put food on the table. Worse, it could mean more families fall into poverty.

These are only a sample of some of the deficit reduction proposals. Such cuts are extraordinarily troubling given that so many ordinary families are struggling and the same lawmakers who have no problem cutting programs that alleviate poverty and promote opportunity refuse to consider closing tax loopholes and ending tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations.

The direction of our public policies is so out of step with people's day-to-day realities that it's no wonder the amorphous Occupy Wall Street protests are growing: economic anxiety is widespread, and policymakers are perpetuating this anxiety because they are loath to fairly tax corporations and millionaires.

The Super Committee's Nov. 23 deadline is around the corner. We recognize that they have tough decisions to make.  At the same time, they should recognize that American families are faced with tough conditions every day including stagnating wages and income, widespread economic insecurity, and rising health care costs.

The Super Committee should develop a balanced plan that adheres to the principle of shared sacrifice and does not shoulder vulnerable families with the bulk of deficit reduction.

Katie Haswell, an intern at CLASP, the Center for Law and Social Policy, provided research assistance for this post.



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