Jacob Sullum

Clearly what we need is a super-duper committee. Instead of six Republicans and six Democrats, it will have three members from each party, and its deficit reduction plan will go directly to the president for his signature, bypassing Congress entirely. This time for sure!

The recurrent fantasy that Congress can delegate difficult fiscal decisions to an autonomous body -- whether a commission or, as in the case of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, a subset of itself -- speaks volumes about the abysmal failure of our elected representatives to do the work they were hired to do. Now that the latest attempt to reassign the power of the purse has collapsed in ignominy, it hardly seems likely that Congress will rise to the task, especially since it has not managed to pass an actual budget (as opposed to continuing resolutions) in more than two and a half years.

What about the "automatic cuts"? Under the legislation that raised the debt limit last summer, the supercommittee's failure to settle on a plan that would reduce deficits by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years is supposed to trigger that amount in spending cuts, with half coming from the military budget and the rest coming from various domestic programs.

But Republican hawks have been squawking about that prospect for months, absurdly warning that a 10 percent reduction in projected Defense Department appropriations will leave the United States, which accounts for more than two-fifths of the world's military spending, defenseless against its enemies. These profligate Pentagon patrons have plenty of time to block the cuts, which do not begin taking effect until January 2013.

"The Congress is not bound by this," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., noted last month. "It's something we passed. We can reverse it." And once Republicans start tinkering with the military cuts, you can be sure Democrats will want to boost domestic spending commensurately.

But let's assume that the cuts really do begin to materialize in a year and (even more improbably) that Congress does not rescind them at any point in the next decade. What is the upshot of this sequestration, which Fox News deems "painful," The Washington Post describes as "punitive" and White House spokesman Jay Carney calls "onerous"?

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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