Deficit reduction ‘Super Committee’ fails to reach agreement

From left, Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, of the Congress-appointed super Committee attend the panel's last public hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011. Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press.

Last week’s failure of the Congress-appointed Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to reach a budget agreement could have long-term consequences for government-funded programs, including higher education.

The “super committee” announced Nov. 21 that it will be unable to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline Nov. 23, according to an official release from the committee leaders, Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington).

“Despite our inability to bridge the committee’s significant differences, we end this process united in our belief that the nation’s fiscal crisis must be addressed and that we cannot leave it for the next generation to solve,” the statement read. “We remain hopeful that Congress can build on this committee’s work and can find a way to tackle this issue in a way that works for the American people and our economy.”

Julia Azari, assistant professor of political science at Marquette, said there are two possible, though not mutually exclusive, reasons why the committee failed to reach its goal of budget compromise.

“One is that the two sides are simply too far apart to reach a compromise,” Azari said. “The other has to do with the way the committee and its goals were established.”

The announcement came after months of deliberations among the twelve committee members, evenly divided among both major political parties. The failure to reach a budget agreement was met by some with aggravation and concern, but not surprise.

“The reason for the super committee was that Republicans and Democrats appeared to be unable to compromise over the summer,” Azari said. “For example, some Republicans have made numerous pledges not to raise taxes and some Democrats would prefer to simply let the Bush-era tax cuts expire.

“The inability to disagree should not have come as a surprise to anyone,” she added. “The committee members were not legislators with the strongest reputations for independence and compromise.”

The committee’s failure to reach a compromise has raised the concern of funding cuts to government programs, such as financial aid for college students and education programs. Azari said the possibility of the “trigger provision,” which would result in across-the-board spending cuts because of the committee’s failure, affecting higher education funding is very real.

“Higher education does have a lobbying presence in Washington and may be able to hold its own, but there is a good chance that young people are about to get a very raw deal and to see their access to loans and grants diminish,” she said. “If this inspires people under 24 to actually participate in politics, then this may be a silver lining.”

Karen Hoffman, assistant professor of political science at Marquette, also recognized the potential consequences to students. However, she said it is too soon to know whether education and other government-funded programs will be affected by the automatic budget cuts.

“Right now, members of Congress are all trying to figure out ways to protect their own priorities, and it’s too early to predict what will happen,” Hoffman said. “The automatic cuts are not scheduled to take place until 2013, and a whole lot can change before then. Congress may come up with a new plan for spending cuts, or they could fail and just pass legislation that protects some items, or they could fail to agree on anything.

“Obama has said that he will veto any legislation that tries to negate the cuts agreed to in the last budget deal,” Hoffman added. “But will that be true in six or eight months?”

The super committee’s failure and the uncertainty surrounding it are frustrating to some students as well.

“Honestly, I find it a bit disgusting that the committee can’t come to an agreement,” said Megan Schneck, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences studying political science. “There is a lot on the line. It seems the people in our government can’t act grown up enough to get the important things done.”