Thursday, August 11, 2011

How not to criticize the supercommittee

On his eponymous show, last night Lawrence O'Donnell offered one of the most bizarre and wrong-headed critiques I have heard so far with respect to the so-called super committee, the committee of 12 congresswomen and men (or really 11 men and one woman) that is tasked with reducing the deficit.  O'Donnell argues that the super committee is problematic because it does not adequately represent America on a per population basis.

There are many criticisms that one can offer of this committee--not enough expertise, not sufficiently bipartisan, it is structurally set-up to fail--but criticizing it because its members represent too few Americans is just plain silly.  First, it is a committee, a section of the whole.  If per population representation was the goal then you would not set up a committee in the first place.  Put differently, the committee is not a representative body.  It was not intended as such, that is not its function.  So criticizing it on that basis makes no sense. Second, the committee derives its legitimacy from Congress, which is a representative institution.  Congress set up the committee and Congress will have to ratify whatever agreement comes out of the committee. Put differently, the output that comes of the committee will be the output of Congress, a representative body.  Third, it is clear that Congress as a committee of the whole cannot come to a long-term agreement.  This structural move might actually be an ingenious mechanism for addressing the gridlock that plagues our legislature.

Let's give this super committee a chance before we tear it down.  Let's encourage its members to rise above their partisan identities and to be statesmen and stateswomen.  Let us not poison the well that we might have to drink from.

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