Political Animal


October 27, 2011 8:00 AM GOP inflexibility stalls super-committee

By Steve Benen

For the better part of the year, congressional Republicans have insisted that debt reduction must be policymakers’ top priority. They don’t, however, really mean it.

In July, President Obama offered GOP officials a $4 trillion debt-reduction package, which was tilted heavily in their direction. Republicans rejected it. In September, the White House presented an even more sensible plan, cutting the debt by more than $3 trillion, only to see the GOP reject it, too.

And this week, Democrats on the so-called super-committee crafted a debt-reduction offer of their own. Care to guess how it was received?

A majority of the 6 Democrats on the 12-member panel threw their support behind a plan that they said incorporated some ideas discussed over the summer by President Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner.

The committee is charged with cutting budget deficits by a total of at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years. The Democratic plan would trim much more, a total of $2.5 trillion to $3 trillion, through cuts in the growth of federal entitlement programs, including Medicare, and more than $1 trillion in new tax revenues.

Congressional Republicans immediately dismissed the proposal out of hand, deeming it a non-starter. This, in turn, prompted Dems to leak word of their plan to the press — presenting Democrats as the ones committed to playing a constructive role, and Republicans as the ones who aren’t willing to compromise.

It’s worth noting, of course, that the “compromise” being offered by the panel’s Dems doesn’t look especially encouraging. In fact, it’s largely shaped on the Grand Bargain that the GOP refused to consider over the summer, trading entitlement cuts for tax revenue. The devil is always in the details, and the specific structure of the Dems’ offer hasn’t been released, but those Medicare cuts appear at first blush to be pretty deep.

That said, Democrats were smart to incorporate what really matters into their plan: by aiming for a larger debt-reduction target, Dems are also demanding economic stimulus as part of the package.

Ultimately, though, the entire exercise is pointless so long as Republicans refuse to consider additional tax revenue. There’s simply no way around this. Dems are willing to trade entitlements for tax revenue, while Republicans aren’t willing to trade anything for anything. It’s why the super-committee was doomed at the outset — GOP officials don’t want to cut the deficit; they want to shrink government. The panel’s Republican members have been tasked with a goal they have no sincere desire to reach.

The super-committee’s final recommendations are due Nov. 23, which is roughly five weeks away. At that point, assuming the panel fails, talk will turn to how best to deal with the “triggers” that would be due to take effect in January 2013.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • c u n d gulag on October 27, 2011 8:08 AM:

    I don't like the sound of those proposed cuts - but, the devil's in the details.

    And I'm starting to come around to the thinking that the President is "playing" the Republicans, setting himself and the Democrats up for November '12, knowing that even if he gave them everything they wanted, they would still say "Nein-Nein-Nein!"?

    At least that's what I'm telling myself. I'm interested in what everyone thinks about this.

  • Danp on October 27, 2011 8:11 AM:

    I would suggest that if Dems want to leak an outline of their Grand Idea, they should be more specific about the Medicare proposal before Republicans try to portray themselves as saviors of the elderly.

  • berttheclock on October 27, 2011 8:25 AM:

    And this is somehow surprising???

    Senator Pat Toomey, (R-PA) stated on yesterday's "Morning Joe", the mantra of "Stimulus will not work. Only cutting taxes and regulations will work".

    Toomey toes the Company, er Corporate Line and follows the orders of Mitch McConnell, who, apparently, is more interested in pushing the University of Louisville into the Big 12 Conference, while, keeping the University of West Virginia out of that conference. McConnell is working deals with the former Democratic Senator from Oklahoma, David Boren, who is, now, the head of OU. As our economy burns, Mitch has become the Head Cheerleader for Louisville. He has time for football and basketball, but, no time for the hoi polloi of this nation.

  • SW on October 27, 2011 8:27 AM:

    They will 'deal with the triggers' by legislating around them and the whole exercise will be revealed to be the cynical three card monte bullshit it always was.

  • sphinx on October 27, 2011 8:27 AM:

    Get rid of the super commitee period. We have enough beauracracy.

  • SW on October 27, 2011 8:30 AM:

    It's a new Congress Bitches! 2013 Haven't we figured that trick out yet! One Congress is not bound by the folly of the previous Congress. They make their own mess. That is the beauty part.

  • DAY on October 27, 2011 8:35 AM:

    OWS is just for practice.

    A few hundred thousand in Washington, like the 2x4 and mule, will get their attention.

  • fugo on October 27, 2011 8:54 AM:

    Welcome to dems negotiating with themselves. So they need to cut the deficit by 1.2 trillion and proposed a plan to cut it by 3 trillion (1 of which is tax increases). If history is any indication then the next steps will be (a) dems crying that republicans arent making a deal, (b) the media hyping up the looming defense cuts if a deal isnt reached (c) the dems caving on tax increases (d) republicans wanting to cut the deficit by the remaining 2 trillion, (e) dems agreeing to 1.2 trillion of these cuts and spinning that they saved 800 billion of programs from cuts. (f) dems wondering why the media isnt praising them (g) dems wonder why republicans continue to lead in enthusiasm

  • Ron Byers on October 27, 2011 8:57 AM:

    I guess the defense department and a lot defense contractors ought to get ready for a real haircut. Maybe cutting defense without having to explain themselves to Lockheed Martin et al is what the super committee is all about.

  • T2 on October 27, 2011 9:11 AM:

    as SW said, the McConnell's of the GOP have already said they'd legislate away the "triggers" if it comes to that. This Super C is a charade, and it was from the start. The only question I have is whether or not Obama basically pulled a fast one here, buying some time until his Bus Tour's galvanized public opinion in his favor on the deficit/jobs/entitlements/tax the rich topics the SC is working on. Now that all pollls show the public firmly on his side, he can just let this play out.

    And fugo, as far as "republicans leading in enthusiasm" - what? you mean Herman Cain?

  • berttheclock on October 27, 2011 9:25 AM:

    Even Joe Scarborough had to admit Pat Toomey does not understand what is going on outside the Beltway. However, Joe still touts Paul Ryan. But, please, Tennessee voters keep Harold Ford away from public office. He said Congress must come together to raise taxes and cut Social Security and Medicare, so, all will have to share the burden.

    But, really strange to go to the KC Star sports online pages and see a photo of Mitch involved in a squabble with both West Virginia Senators over a college conference issue. He even tried to get Oklahoma to vote with UT on revenue sharing. Hey, Mitch, unemployment is rising, the shrinking Middle Class and the trying to work poor people are really hurting. Have you lost your perspective glasses?

  • KurtRex1453 on October 27, 2011 9:31 AM:

    I thought there must be a few good stubborn jokes out there but a quick google found nothing relevant to republicans... At least ones that are clean. The theory being that if you wish to disarm people you make fun of them in a non-hurtful way, but I am not Jay Leno's writers so...

  • Peter C on October 27, 2011 9:44 AM:

    Of course the super committee is stalled - it is HALF Republicans! Republicans vote in a block, in lockstep. Any committee like this is DESIGNED to either stall or to craft a 'compromise' which gives the 1% (the Republicans) 99% of what they want.

    Still, the super committee ended the disasterous shut-down stalemate and avoided an idiotic default. I'm OK with it generating this sort of PR message (The Democrats are trying, but the Republicans aren't willing to confront the problems). However, since the super committee was also designed to SOLVE THE WRONG PROBLEM, I'm OK with it failing.

    Our task is to make sure that we've gotten Congress in better shape after the election so when the 'triggers' happen, they can be dismissed and replaced with rational policy.

  • Trollop on October 27, 2011 9:46 AM:

    Obstruction, will it hurt them next election cycle? I'd like to think so but I have seriously tainted preconceptions of the "future". American politics is/are shamefully stupid, you say you want a revolution? I'm in..
    Wow, Craptcha (which still doesn't block all the spam) has gone Italian today with : tioadda boranici (and his orchestra!)

  • bdop4 on October 27, 2011 10:18 AM:

    Fugo nailed it.

    What is gained by proposing TWICE the amount of deficit reduction for a modest revenue component? Then they will willingly march into the GOP web of bullshit and strike some "bipartisan compromise" that leaves them three steps back from where they started.

    Do they think eviscerating Medicare is going to make them heroes?

  • Ronald on October 27, 2011 10:23 AM:

    Apply for a job on internet, we pay 15-20$ per hour, read here: ho.io/workathome

  • biggerbox on October 27, 2011 10:27 AM:

    Please introduce me to someone who actually thought the super-committee would work, because I have a bridge I'd like to sell them.

    This is exactly what was predicted back when this Kabuki Committee was created in the first place. It's not like once you only had 6 Republicans they'd suddenly forget their religious devotion to the god Nonewtaxes, or their party's commitment to obstructing Obama.

    This is about as surprising as the way the days are getting shorter, and how it's starting to snow in the mountains.

  • ComradeAnon on October 27, 2011 10:27 AM:

    Jees, who taught Obama and the Dems how to negotiate. NEVER put your cards on the table first. Or NEVER say anything after closing. I guess it doesn't matter. The super committee was designed to fail.

  • chi res on October 27, 2011 10:28 AM:

    eviscerating Medicare

    Really? The Democrats are proposing to disembowel Medicare, to deprive it of its essential content?

    Wow, apparently you know more about the proposed cuts than anyone else here. Please enlighten us.

  • Doug on October 27, 2011 8:09 PM:

    Now, now chi res, you know ANY attempt to restrain Medicare costs, no matter how small or unlikely to be adopted, is nothing less than GUTTING the program. It's right there on page seven of the "Required Terminology" pamphlet!
    //snark off//
    The only news I've seen referenced $400 to 600 billion in cuts to be divided between providers and recipients, I presume over a ten-year period. There was no mention if the cuts were to be shared equally or what the percentages were if not. I find it difficult to believe that $40-60 billion per annum can't be cut from Medicare while still maintaining its ability to provide the same level of healthcare for the elderly as today.
    It IS a bit risky in that its a proposal to cut PROPOSED Medicare funding. While Republicans are not averse to lying before, during and after their election campaigns and we still should be very, very cautious about providing them with ANYTHING that can be used against us.
    Let'em provide their own ammo...