Dysfunction turned out to be Kryptonite for the supercommittee.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 gave six Democrats and six Republicans the power to come up with a plan to cut the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion before the Congressional Thanksgiving recess. However, lawmakers bickered while the market fell.

“It would be a sad commentary on our state of affairs if a decade-old political pledge to a corporate lobbyist were allowed to prevent bipartisan progress on our nation’s most pressing issues,” James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., one of the “Super 12” and Assistant Democratic Leader of the House, said in a statement. “Yet with massive across-the-board budget cuts hanging over us like the sword of Damocles, that seems a possible outcome.”

Amid global skittishness fueled partly by the debt crisis in Europe, the supercommittee’s impasse was linked to a 2.5 percent drop in the Dow Jones industrial average, which fell roughly 300 points to 11,500 around noon Monday. It also meant no extensions, at the moment, for unemployment benefits or payroll tax cuts.

With no super heroes to save the day, Democrats are blaming Republicans, and Republicans are blaming Democrats. They clashed primarily over tax breaks for the wealthy and spending cuts for domestic programs from Social Security to health care.

“The claim that Medicare, Medicaid and other health-care costs are major drivers of our debt crisis is an overstatement,” said Alfred Chiplin Jr., managing attorney at the Center for Medicare Advocacy in Washington, D.C. “We must be sure that philosophical differences about the nature, role and size of government are not taken out on the backs of the poor, the elderly, those with disabilities or on children.”

The National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) also opposes cuts in domestic programs and had been encouraging citizens to “tell the supercommittee NO cuts to HIV/AIDS programs” as lawmakers made 11th hour efforts to reach some sort of face-saving measure.

“NMAC opposes any cuts to discretionary budget line items, which fund domestic or global HIV/AIDS programs,” said Kali Lindsey, the council’s director of legislative and public affairs. “Research advancements demonstrate that thoughtful and strategic investments along with assured access to necessary care, treatment and support services can bring an end to the HIV epidemic in the United States and around the globe.” 

Sentiment among the general public seemed to mirror that of their elected officials, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. Fifty-seven percent of Democrats opposed spending cuts in the poll released on Monday, while 59 percent of Republicans were against tax increases. Republicans favor extending the Bush tax cuts, which expire at the end of 2012, from 39.6 percent to 28 percent for the wealthiest Americans.

Among independent voters surveyed, seven in 10 favor cuts in domestic spending and increases in taxes on corporations and wealthy people. About six in 10 of all respondents are against reductions in defense spending.

If the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction’s failure to act leads to across-the-board cuts in 2013, also known as sequestration, some politicians might be relieved that voters technically couldn’t blame them at the ballot box next November for tampering with pet programs. Without legislative action in the interim, the automatic cuts would be split between defense and non-defense programs.

“Some programs will be exempted from the sequestration process that will benefit people living with HIV or AIDS, including Medicaid, Social Security and food stamps (SNAP), and Medicare’s cut is limited to no more than 2 percent,” Lindsey explained. 

“However, hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV or AIDS or in need of prevention services will be harmed with cuts to discretionary programs that fund programs like the Ryan White health-care programs, the already strained AIDS Drug Assistance Program and HIV prevention efforts funded at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” 

Chiplin says that health-care reform could save the nation a great deal of money in the long run. “If we let health-care reform through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) work, we will see a general slowing of the rate of increase in health-care costs,” he said.

“The ACA has many cost-containment features that should help to rein in health-care costs over time, including payment and service-delivery model changes, such as exploring and implementing accountable care organizations, paying only for care that has a demonstrated value, focusing on prevention and care coordination (particularly as a tool to address health disparities) and pursuing strategies to address the problem of unnecessary procedures and services.”


Yanick Rice Lamb

Special to the AFRO