Watch out, Congress. There is a new committee in town. And this one is "super."
The super-committee's mission: Create a plan before Thanksgiving to cut $1.5 trillion in federal spending over the next decade. The cost of failure: Automatic $1.2 trillion in cuts to defense and discretionary spending. The likelihood of success: unknown.
Bi-partisan commissions similar to the one created by the recently passed debt ceiling extension are nothing new on Capitol Hill. In fact there have been more than 150 of them created over the past two decades, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
"Commissions are made because members can't stomach making choices that could have electoral ramifications. They provide a sense of political cover," said Jonathan Murphy, communications director for the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.
A shining example of a successful commission, Murphy added, was the Base Closure and Realignment Commission. Instead of each military base's closure being decided by the full Congress, where members could face serious backlash if they voted to close a base in their district, the commission lumped all the base closures into one bill.
In the past two years alone there have been four separate commissions formed solely to deal with the country's ballooning debt.
The first was the Domenici–Rivlin Commission, led by former Senator Pete Domenici (R.-N.M.) and former Clinton budget director Alice Rivlin. They released a plan in November 2010 to cut the deficit by $5.9 trillion over 10 years. It had a spending cuts to tax revenue ratio of about 60-40.
But the Domenci-Rivlin Commission was comprised almost entirely of former lawmakers, not people who currently had a constituency and a party to report to. And the $650 billion in cuts per year came from some rather unpopular sources --creating a 6.5 percent sales tax and cutting some Social Security benefits, for instance.
Next came the president-appointed Bowles-Simpson Commission. This commission, while it was led by former Clinton aide Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R.-Wyo.), included primarily current members of Congress. Its December 2010 report recommended a savings of $4 trillion by 2020, broken down by about 75 percent in spending cuts and 25 percent in tax revenues.
When both these commissions failed to spawn Congressional action, a bipartisan group of Congressmen decided to take matters into their own hands, forming the Gang of Six.
This smaller take on bipartisan compromise developed a plan to strike $3.7 trillion from the deficit over 10 years in part by simplifying the tax code and raising an additional $1 trillion. The plan never made much headway in Congress because Republicans are fiercely opposed to any tax increases.
As the debt clock ticked down to the Aug. 2 debt ceiling deadline, Vice President Joe Biden led a fourth group of Congressional leaders in talks to produce a plan to increase the debt ceiling and reduce the deficit.