Congress Can’t Bind Congress

by Andrew C. McCarthy

A number of us have made the point that the purported $900 billion in “cuts” in the debt deal are illusory — most of them are not scheduled to occur for many years, and the future Congresses in power when are supposed to happen will not be bound by laws passed by the current Congress. At the American Spectator’s blog, John Tabin makes a related and perhaps more pressing point: Even this Congress is not bound by this Congress.

The context is the possibility that, between the Super Committee’s proposal and the alternative of “triggers” that force across-the-board cuts, Republicans will be put in a bind: forced to choose between job-killing tax hikes and irresponsibly deep cuts in the defense budget. Mr. Tabin observes:

Deficit reduction plans cooked up by committees (like the plan presented last year by the Simpson-Bowles commission) tend to be DOA when they hit Congress. It’s just really difficult to put together a plan that can pass both houses, especially when they’re controlled by different parties. The super committee is supposed to be different because of the triggers, which are meant to be so onerous that they force Congress to accept the super committee’s recommendations. But Congress, of course, has the power to change the law.

This is an excellent point. We have been talking about the “Super Committee or Triggers” framework as if it were set in stone. But it’s no more certain than, say, the lapsing of the Bush tax cuts.

Obviously, changing the law would require something that President Obama would be willing to sign, and only after it gets through the GOP-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate. As we’ve seen, not easy but far from impossible. If the pols are frightened by both the Super Committee’s proposal and the prospect of triggers that slash defense even more drastically, it’s not at all difficult to imagine the enactment of new legislation that avoids the tough choices the just enacted debt deal supposedly forces. The reason cans get kicked down the road is that Washington always finds more road. 

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