There is a growing expectation that Washington may address the jobs crisis in a significant way with the possibility of major parts of “The American Jobs Act” becoming law, The New York Times reports today. A key to this could be the supercommittee, officially called the “Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.” Casey Armstrong considers whether it is likely to be up to its bi-partisan tasks. The question of American governability is on the line. -Jeff
Last month, I speculated that the supercommittee had the potential to help drag our legislature into a more authentic form of bipartisanship, a bipartisanship based on principled mutual compromise in the tradition of Henry Clay. I expressed my belief that the makeup of the committee would determine its ability to affect change. In that respect, the prospect of the committee changing the status quo now seems bleak. There is great opportunity but the membership of the committee suggested that the opportunity will be missed.
The Committee on Deficit Reduction is nominally a “joint select committee.” Emphasis should be given to the “joint” nature. Select committees generally suggest, but don’t legislate. In the present supercommittee, I see the spirit of the conference committees that resolve contentions between Senate and House bills. “Going to conference” offers possibilities of compromise that would not have previously existed for the conferees in their respective chambers or standing committees. Conference rules state that “the conferees are given free reign to resolve their differences without formal instructions from their bodies.” Senate scholar Walter Oleszek quoted an anonymous Senate leader opining, “Conferences are marvelous. They’re mystical. They’re alchemy. It’s absolutely dazzling what you can do.”
In the Obama budget talks, posturing was encouraged by heightened visibility. Separate branches of government competed for authority. With the supercommittee, we move to what Erving Goffman called the “backstage.” The individual actors have more agency to shape the outcome than . . .