Thursday, August 11, 2011

Agreeing to Disagree

The phrase "agree to disagree" is commonly used to dismiss arguments and debates between people with irreconcilable viewpoints. In essence, the phrase means the two sides will never see eye to eye, and everyone should just move on.

In the U.S. Congress, however, that approach has become standard operating procedure. In the recent debt ceiling debacle, the only way to pass any legislation at all was to get both sides to settle their differences later. The final settlement will be done with pistols at sunrise or, more violently, with a congressional super-committee.

To get the fireworks going promptly, all of the Republican appointees to this committee have signed the "no new tax" pledge. Basically, this means they've sworn not to consider all the options. It's kind of like a criminal trial where half the jurors have already promised not to find the defendant guilty.

Democrats meanwhile, in a characteristic show of strength, have not managed to appoint all their members yet.

This committee will have to decide how to trim $1.5 trillion from the federal budget over the next decade. This task is complicated by the "no tax" pledge, the latest economic events, and the recent Netflix rate increase.

The committee has until Thanksgiving to complete its work and come up with a mutually agreeable plan to solve debt problems. If they can't agree (What are the odds?), then a bunch of automatic cuts will kick in, causing Democrats to howl and Republicans to sniff indignantly. With this powerful incentive, we can be sure the committee will be just as productive and non-partisan as the last round of deficit reduction talks.

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