Economy

Why the Super Committee is Super Illegitimate

Members of Congress can't serve big money donors and the general public at the same time.

Another day, another tiresome piece of political theater come to an end.

This time the dog-and-pony show is the super committee, whose members were given the right to decide where government spending will be slashed over the next decade. Only they couldn’t seem to decide. So today, the committee is likely to throw in the towel, and its unfinished business will set up more battles to come over automatic cuts in defense and domestic programs scheduled to go into effect in 2013 in the absence of a deal.

Newt Gingrich recently said that the super committee was “the dumbest idea I've seen in a very long lifetime."

That might be the most intelligent thing Newt has said in a very long lifetime.

Let's start with the premise of even having a deficit super committee in the first place. Basic macroeconomics tells us that trying to reduce the deficit before you have tackled the jobs crisis is great recipe for making things worse, largely because the lack of tax revenue that comes with high unemployment is a primary contributor to the deficit, and slashing government spending does not create jobs—quite the opposite. The idea that you can slash-and-grow the economy is an economic fairy tale that has been thoroughly debunked and has demonstrably failed in places like the U.K. Sensible approaches to the deficit from reality-based economists like Joseph Stiglitz (i.e. reduce unemployment and tax the top) have been around for some time, but they can't seem to penetrate the bubble of economic delusion that is Washington, D.C.

What too few are wiling to say is that the fundamental goal of the super committee—that of deficit cutting in the face of a weak economy and jobs crisis – does not serve the welfare of the public (something our Constitution states clearly that our government is supposed to do, btw). The truth is that the super committee can't properly devote itself to the general welfare because it has other constituencies to attend to, namely those who contribute big political money.

As a reminder, the members of the super committee are as follows:

From the Senate: Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio),Patty Murray (D-Wash.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), and Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

From the House: Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), and Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.).

Maplight, a non-profit, non-partisan group dedicated to exposing money in politics, has released information on where the members of the super committee got their money over the last decade. Here are the ten biggest organization contributors (including PACs and employees) to super committee members:

Club for Growth - $1,009,884
Microsoft  - $822,350
University of California -  $652,935
Goldman Sachs -  $605,684
EMILY's List - $594,883
Citigroup - $584,831
JPMorgan Chase - $533,128
UBS -  $451,280
Akin Gump - $435,254
Morgan Stanley -  $393,779

You will be unsurprised to learn that the Club for Growth, the number one contributor overall, is an extreme anti-tax and anti-government group comprising 9,000 members and dominated by Wall Street financiers and executives. Nor will you be surprised to find the big banks and financial houses well-represented on this list: Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and UBS.

Obviously, neither the Club for Growth nor Big Finance advocates increasing the share of taxes on the wealthy and the financial sector as a way of addressing the deficit, in contrast to the American public, which does. Are we really supposed to believe that it is a coincidence that the six Republicans on the committee swore to block any tax increases, even on the big banks that helped bring on the 2008 crash that caused the deficit in the first place?

Sure doesn’t look that way. The Sunlight Foundation hasreported that the Club for Growth has been a top doner for GOP Senators Kyl and Toomey. In fact, Toomey has previously served as the organization’s president. Bank of America and the American Bankers Association have been very generous to GOP Representative Hensarling, while Citigroup has lavished large sums on Senator Kyl.

Committee Dems are well-backed by financiers, too. Citigroup and Goldman Sachs have been quite bountiful to Senator Kerry, while Senator Baucus has big money friends at Goldman, JPMorgan Chase, and American International Group (AIG).

Ernst & Young, the accounting firm famous for fighting regulation and then getting charged with fraudulent practices that led to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, doled out large sums to members of both parties, notably Hensarling from the GOP side and Baucus from the Democratic side.

The “No new taxes” program doesn’t do much for most of the public, but is very appealing to super-rich bankers and financiers. Never mind that the taxes of the super-rich are lower than they have been since Hoover was in office. As long as the money from big doners continues to pour into Congress unchecked, the agenda of its members -- no matter what committee or super committee they sit on -- will be skewed against the public welfare in favor of the 1 percent. That’s why we keep hearing, even from Democrats, that “everything is on the table,” including programs that keep millions out of poverty.

And of course the arms industry has not been shy about opening its own spigot of cash. William Hartung recentlynoted on the Huffington Post that super committee members have enjoyed over $1.1 million in campaign donations from weapons manufacturers over the past two election cycles, "including contributions to each member's campaign committee as well as to leadership PACs." He points out that a leadership PAC is a political action committee that allows a member of Congress to channel contributions to the election campaigns of other members, "a way of winning good will that can be tapped in support of specific initiatives or if the member runs for a leadership position." Hartung further observes that 22 former staffers of super committee members are currently employed as lobbyists for Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and other arms contractors. Gotta love that revolving door.

Concessions. Decisions. Speeches. Offers. Deals. Here’s what it all amounts to: The super committee is a failed project based upon a failed premise resting upon a failed democratic process in a failing political system.

A Constitutional amendment banning corporate money from politics is long overdue, and perhaps our only hope for ensuring that the members of Congress we elect actually work on our behalf.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet contributing editor. She is co-founder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of 'Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.' Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.