Working Paper No. 7

The New “Supercommittee”: An “Optimistic” View

By Jared Lobdell, Ph.D.
November 16, 2011

An October New York Times story remarked that “with just five weeks until its deadline, a secretive Congressional committee seeking ways to cut the federal deficit is far from a consensus, and party leaders may need to step in if they want to ensure agreement, say people involved in the panel’s work.” We have this “supercommittee” of twelve members of Congress, ostensibly for the purpose of cutting a minimum $1.2 trillion from our deficit, chosen by four appointers, none agreeing with any other on exactly what ought to be done, representing mostly diametrically opposing wings of two parties with irreconcilable differences.

Furthermore, if there’s no recommendation before Thanksgiving Day, there’s to be a 5-percent across-the-board cut in non-entitlement government expenditures (which includes defense cuts estimated at $600 billion). On the surface this supercommittee would seem to be highly unlikely to produce anything useful, a statement so self-evident that the introduction of theory would appear superfluous — unless theory suggests there may somehow be hope of a successful outcome. Is it possible that the supercommittee will make recommendations — which will then be passed into law — and achieve the desired result? Let us see. We might mention here in passing that past study, going back at least fifty years to Parkinson’s Law, tells us twelve is too many for a working committee and that committees with an even number of members and no casting vote are a dubious proposition at best (Charles I tried it, by the way, with his cabinet and got his head cut off).

Read the Full Working Paper

Jared Lobdell, Ph.D. (Carnegie Mellon), is a former Secretary, SIG on Political Systems Analysis, SGSR (IIASA), and an Adjunct Lecturer in Global Studies at Harrisburg Area Community College.