By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
The only surprise about the failure of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or the supercommittee, to agree on any plan to reduce the national debt by $1.2 trillion is that anybody was surprised at all.
Let’s be honest. The supercommittee was doomed from the start, and it was a mistake to create it in the first place. As Newt Gingrich correctly observed, in one of the few times he’s been right about anything: “It’s about as dumb an idea as Congress has come up with in my lifetime.”
There are those, and I’m one of them, who question its very constitutionality. Where in the Constitution is Congress given the authority to bestow on just 12 of its members plenipotentiary powers to meet in secret and devise a plan for cutting $1.2 trillion out of the budget, which all members of Congress must then vote on, up or down, without the ability to change or amend? Where? Nowhere.
But even if it is constitutional, its prospects for success were nonexistent. The same resistance among Republicans to any increase in revenues existed long before the committee was formed, and weren’t about to change because somebody shook pixie dust on the supercommittee.
In the wake of its demise, we hear three theories about the committee. All three of them are false. First is the contention that things would have turned out differently if only President Obama had taken part in the negotiations. Baloney. This was a congressional committee, created by special legislation with 12 members, six representatives and six senators, with a specific mission and a fixed deadline. There was no seat at the table for Obama or any other member of the administration. By law, deciding on a formula for cutting $1.2 trillion from the national debt was the job of Congress alone, and Congress failed to deliver.
Second theory: Republicans, led by Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, abandoned their lock-jaw opposition to new taxes and offered a “good-faith” plan for revenue enhancement. More Baloney. Toomey’s plan was nothing but a red herring. Sure, it would raise, over the next decade, $290 billion in new revenue by limiting deductions on mortgage interest, charitable donations, and state and local taxes. But, for the first time, it would also require working Americans to pay taxes on their employer-provided health care. And, instead of getting rid of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans, it would cut their tax rates even more — thereby canceling out any additional revenue.
Third slice of baloney: Both parties share the blame for the supercommittee’s failure. This is the greatest canard of all. There is only one party responsible for the failure of the supercommittee, and it’s not the Democrats. Unlike Republicans, Democrats came to the supercommittee ready to deal. They put on the table almost $1 trillion in spending cuts, some to programs long sacrosanct to Democrats. All they asked in return was for Republicans to agree to let the Bush tax cuts expire. Which Republicans, once again, refused to do — even though many of them originally approved the cuts, back in 2001, as a temporary measure only, to handle what was then (thanks to Bill Clinton) a hefty surplus.
There’s no doubt that tax breaks for the wealthy have contributed to our soaring debt. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the Bush cuts added $2.6 trillion to the national debt between 2001 and 2010, 50 percent of the total debt accumulated during that period.
So why do Republicans resist what should so obviously be part of any balanced solution to balancing the budget? Because 279 members of Congress — 238 representatives and 41 senators — have signed a pledge to lobbyist Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, that they will never vote for what could be considered a tax increase in any form. No way, no how. Not even to finance a foreign war.
It’s time somebody questioned the priorities of those 279 members of Congress. Whom do they serve — the American people or Grover Norquist? By their unwillingness to compromise on revenue, it appears they value their loyalty to a powerful Washington lobbyist over what’s best for the country, which violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the oath they have taken to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. The American people deserve much better.
© 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.