Had the supercommittee fulfilled its mission, the United States would face cumulative deficits of $3.5 trillion over the next 10 years, compared with $4.7 trillion without the cuts, according to projections by the Congressional Budget Office.
The deficit grows. The debt grows. Nothing gets cut.
Now that the supercommittee has declared defeat, automatic spending cuts (again, in the projected growth of spending) of $1.2 trillion are to kick in starting in 2013. Congress is already busy hatching schemes to prevent this "sequester" from actually happening.
Committee members were out in force pointing fingers at one another last week. The good news is, Congress' approval rating - 9 percent in one poll - can't go much lower. Come November 2012, the American public may just decide to give incumbents a similar share of its vote.
While the primary blame rests with the supercommittee, there's more than enough to go around. Here is my short list of candidates:
Blame Congress: That a supercommittee had to be created, as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling in August, speaks for itself. If lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, were "serious about cutting spending, they wouldn't have to hide behind a 12-member committee," says Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center.
Even under sequestration, federal spending would grow by $1.65 trillion from 2012 to 2021, compared with $1.8 trillion without it, de Rugy says. This is hardly draconian. If lawmakers had spent as much time considering the Simpson-Bowles commission's deficit-reduction plan as they do meeting with lobbyists, they wouldn't have had to pass off their work to a supercommittee.
Blame the Republicans: They jeered when President Obama harped on the tax break for corporate-jet owners, part of his class-warfare stump speech. Yet when it came time to put a proposal on the table, the six Republican members of the supercommittee included the elimination of that very same perk in their list of revenue raisers. There is little evidence to suggest this gang was willing to "go big," as some deficit hawks had urged. In fact, the failure to propose any major changes to the tax code or entitlement programs is clear evidence of their choice to "go small" or not at all.
Blame Grover Norquist: The president of Americans for Tax Reform asks elected officials to sign a pledge to never raise taxes on anyone. The pledge has 279 signatories, almost all Republicans, in the 112th Congress.
Norquist views the elimination of a tax break as a tax increase. That's nonsense. A tax break for one industry or interest group, without a revenue offset, means a bigger deficit. That's why such breaks are called "tax expenditures." They're government spending by another name.
Besides, when Congress writes an exemption or deduction into the tax code, unless it cuts spending (see definition of a real cut, above), eventually, someone else's taxes go up. Where was Norquist's pledge when an estimated $1.1 trillion in annual tax expenditures was created?
Blame the Democrats: For Democrats, the quid pro quo of deficit reduction is entitlement cuts in exchange for tax increases on the rich, be it through the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for top earners or through increases in marginal rates. Preserving Medicare as we know it isn't an option. There isn't enough money to confiscate from the rich, even at usurious tax rates, for the government to keep the promises it made to seniors. It's disingenuous for the Democrats to pretend that can save something, like the Social Security Trust Fund, that isn't there.
Blame George W. Bush: Obama blames him for everything else. Why not this?
Blame Obama: The president didn't want to sully his hands or his reputation by getting involved in something as trivial as the nation's fiscal health. So he stayed away, then went away, and then came back once it was all over but the shoutin'. Obama can now run against a do-nothing Congress and hope that the electorate likes his do-something initiatives, including health-care reform.
Blame ourselves: We elected these folks. We have the power to vote them out of office. We may get more of the same, but we need to make it clear that our votes are conditional on a change in behavior.
Caroline Baum is the author of "Just What I Said" and a Bloomberg News columnist.