PORTLAND – If ever there was a poster child for broken government, the debt ceiling debacle is it.

The pathetic episode was a product of Washington’s near-pathological willingness to sacrifice the best interests of the country for partisan ideology and short-term political gain.

It was, as President Obama rightly said, a needless showdown “imposed” on the American people by our elected representatives in Washington, D.C.

The protracted debate and eleventh-hour deal brought the nation close to defaulting on our debt, put world financial markets on a knife’s edge, and resulted in a bond rating downgrade from Standard & Poor’s.

The final deal includes $917 billion in spending cuts realized over the next decade and creates a new 12-member congressional “super committee” to negotiate at least an additional $1.2 trillion in savings, which will be detailed and voted on by the end of the year.

If the super committee cannot reach agreement on at least $1.2 trillion in cuts, or if the committee’s package is rejected by Congress, the deal includes a “trigger” to force $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts in both domestic discretionary spending and defense.

Conveniently, these triggered cuts do not go into effect until 2013, after the 2012 election.

What is wrong with this picture?

The commission and trigger are an acknowledgement by congressional leaders and the president that Washington is utterly and perhaps irreparably broken.

We will soon empower a group of 12 people — a super-Congress — to make the tough decisions the real Congress is incapable of making. As these super committee members debate budgetary policies that will affect the lives of 308 million of their fellow Americans, our elected officials will, by their own design, be sitting on the sidelines.

Assuming the super committee advances a package, House and Senate members will have a single opportunity to vote it up or down with no amendments allowed.

Alternatively, if the super-Congress proves to be as gridlocked, partisan and petty a progeny as its forebear, then our elected officials can avoid making any tough decisions as the blunt instrument cuts of the trigger kick in.

No one expects the legislative process to be pretty, and there is increasingly little expectation it will be fact-based or civil. But even with that low bar, Americans expect their elected leaders will nonetheless do the job they were elected to do.

That job inevitably involves compromising, making tough decisions, and not abdicating your own power and responsibilities to super committees and unthinking triggers.

It absolutely does not involve manufacturing a crisis so dire that it leaves your constituents’ and your country’s economic well-being hanging in the balance.

– Special to the Press Herald