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The Super Committee Couldn’t Reach a Deal. What Happens Now?

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Photo by Flickr user Veronique Debord

Way back in August, the Joint  Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or Super Committee, was charged with developing a plan to reduce our federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Why were they called the “Super Committee?” Because their recommendations would be given “superpowers,” so as to slide through Congress and quickly become law. The Super Committee had until Thanksgiving to produce something, but when November 23 came, they couldn’t do it, leaving most of us scratching our heads wondering, what happened?  You can read their statement here.

So, what happened? Well, this was a missed opportunity for moving ahead and putting our country on a fiscally sustainable path. But before turning away disheartened, let’s examine exactly why the Super Committee couldn’t produce a deal, and what this means for Congress’ 2012 agenda. More importantly, we need to understand what this means for our economy, prospects for the unemployed, and the millions of individuals relying on those federal assistance programs to help them put food on the table, provide for their families, and move out of poverty. The Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs (DHN) held a webinar last week on the outcome of the Super Committee and what it means for our priorities going forward. You can check it out here.

While relatively successful at keeping their internal discussions from leaking, it appears members of the Super Committee met an impasse when it came to taxes. The two sides just could not agree on a balanced plan that included both cuts and revenues.  So is it bad that the Super Committee couldn’t reach a deal? The Super Committee presented an opportunity for Congress to come together around a bipartisan, balanced, comprehensive deficit reduction package that put the country on solid fiscal ground, created jobs and grew the economy, and followed those values we ascribe to as a country -- like protecting people in need and struggling with hunger. The fact that they didn’t is a missed opportunity.

A final proposal that would have severely cut programs for poor and hungry people would not have helped anything or anyone.  In fact, such a plan would have caused more hardship in an already difficult economic climate. The Center on Budget analyzed some of those proposals. Read them here and here.

So, now what? Where do we go from here? Under the Budget Control Act, the absence of a deal means we will see automatic cuts for the next nine years. These cuts will total $1.2 trillion and begin in January 2013—over a year from now. The National Women’s Law Center wrote a piece explaining some of the myths and facts about what the lack of a deal means. There are some critical points to remember about the automatic cuts that have been triggered.

First, because of the great work by Bread for the World members and activists around the country, some really important programs for poor and hungry people are exempt from the automatic cuts—programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit, and Medicaid are just a few examples. That being said, other vital programs have no protections -- programs like WIC, food aid, and international poverty-focused development assistance. And these programs are already facing cuts because of the ten-year budget caps Congress enacted in August.

But there’s another way. Congress can reduce our deficits, promote job creation, strengthen the economy, and protect programs for hungry and poor people -- those currently exempted from cuts and those targeted for cuts. Congress can do this all by doing what the Super Committee was unable to do—pass a balanced, comprehensive deficit reduction plan that reduces our deficits while protecting that small portion of the budget that funds programs for poor and hungry people. Congress has adhered to this principle to protect poor and vulnerable populations in all the major deficit reduction laws over the past thirty years. It must do so again. It will take new revenues. It will take some tough spending choices. But whether to fund programs for poor and hungry people should not be a choice. Congress has a year. I hope they will step up to the plate.

Congress can take a first step right now by extending unemployment benefits before they expire at the end of the year. If Congress fails to extend federal unemployment insurance, 2 million people will lose benefits in January alone. This assistance helps those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own continue to put food on the table, provide for their families, and search for work. Cutting unemployment insurance is no way to address our deficits.

Amelia-keganAmelia Kegan is senior policy analyst at Bread for the World.

 


 

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