The Tricameral Hail Mary

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This “Super Congress” proposal is really a thing of beauty. It is, after all, one thing for the Senate’s majority leader and its minority leader to jointly admit that Congress is incapable of governing; it is quite another thing for them to do that and then offer up a “solution” that is really no solution at all.

Under a plan put forth by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his counterpart Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), legislation to lift the debt ceiling would be accompanied by the creation of a 12-member panel made up of 12 lawmakers — six from each chamber and six from each party.

Legislation approved by the Super Congress — which some on Capitol Hill are calling the “super committee” — would then be fast-tracked through both chambers, where it couldn’t be amended by simple, regular lawmakers, who’d have the ability only to cast an up or down vote. With the weight of both leaderships behind it, a product originated by the Super Congress would have a strong chance of moving through the little Congress and quickly becoming law. A Super Congress would be less accountable than the system that exists today, and would find it easier to strip the public of popular benefits. Negotiators are currently considering cutting the mortgage deduction and tax credits for retirement savings, for instance, extremely popular policies that would be difficult to slice up using the traditional legislative process.

This is both the logical endpoint of Washington’s fetish for bipartisan committees and an absolutely masterful display of deck chair shuffling. As parody, it would be hilarious; as self-parody, it’s appalling.

Consider the math of the Super Congress: it would include an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, regardless of the relative strength of each in Regular Congress. In other words: democratic elections would have absolutely no effect on the balance of power in Super Congress, ever. Not only that, but the twelve members of Super Congress would presumably need to be palatable to the leaders of both parties, and close enough to the middle to be capable of achieving consensus — otherwise, there’s no reason to believe that Super Congress wouldn’t face the same intractable gridlock that has paralyzed the Senate.

What this means is that Super Congress would fundamentally reflect a center-right Washington consensus in favor of austerity, against the social safety net, against labor, and (should, god forbid, they ever be expected to craft legislation related to national security) against civil liberties. If this is the cure to congressional gridlock, don’t act so surprised when you find yourself feeling nostalgic for the disease.

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