October 18, 2011; Source: Politico | Remember the “super committee?” It was part of the early-August deal to avert a default on the national debt. Its charge was to close the 10-year deficit by a further $1.2 trillion.

If you forgot about it, don’t feel bad. Lots of us have. But we would do well to think about what $1.2 trillion in cuts (or cuts plus new revenue) might actually mean. This bipartisan, bicameral committee is supposed to deliver its recommendations to Congress by November 23, that is, a little over a month from now. And to do that, the super committee will actually have to come up with its plan by early November so that its deficit-closing potential can be scored by the Congressional Budget Office.

We hope and trust that the nonprofit sector is weighing in. And we don’t mean weighing in solely in think-tank mode either—the input needs to be something more than dueling fiscal-policy chartbooks from the Center for American Progress and the Heritage Foundation. Nonprofits also must let the super committee know how any proposed deficit reductions might affect nonprofits qua nonprofits. Nonprofits must be able to detail exactly how any proposed deficit closers will affect the functions of the charitable sector as distinct from, though connected to, business and government.

That said, the question will remain: If the nonprofit sector does weigh in effectively, will the advice be heard? Here is one of the problems of our money-talks democracy. Politico reports that the super committee has received north of 175,000 deficit-reduction recommendations from the public so far. Kind of hard to imagine a handful of super-committee staffers, much less the representatives and senators themselves, thoughtfully plowing through a giant stack of ordinary-citizen submissions. This is especially true if we assume that a good chunk of the recommendations are multi-faceted, like the 67-item plan submitted by the Third Way think tank. Multiply those 175,000 recommendations by a few dozen items, and the resulting noise is a deafening cacophony.

What are the nonprofit-sector leadership organizations saying? On the Independent Sector webpage, the link instructing members to contact the super committee takes you straight to a page with an apparent sole focus on protecting the charitable deduction, apparently threatened in IS’s estimation by President Obama’s proposal to cap itemized deductions.

The National Council of Nonprofits doesn’t seem to have an explicit call for action visible on its website concerning the super committee, though the Council’s analysis raises a broader range of issues of concern in addition to the charitable deduction—including concerns about cuts in discretionary federal programs, entitlement programs, and even issues concerning the banking sector (recognizing the importance for nonprofits of access to credit and financing). 

Presumably other nonprofit leadership organizations are also weighing in, we hope with something more than a save-the-charitable-deduction-for-rich-people agenda. Will these nonprofit voices be loud and unified enough to counter the big corporate special interests? Note that in the first three weeks after the members of the 12-person super committee were named, corporate PACs began flooding the members with new campaign contributions. The donations come from such charitably minded entities as Lockheed Martin, the National Association of Realtors, Pfizer, and Chevron. Of course, members of the super committee were quite familiar with contributions from special interests before being nominated to this ad hoc deficit-reduction entity. 

So, here’s our question for you: If you’re the author of one of the 175,000 recommendations that the super committee has received so far, please tell us, and share with your NPQ Newswire reading colleagues what you’ve recommended!—Rick Cohen