As the president’s debt commission recommended earlier this year, whittling the beastly debt down will require pain from all quarters. Social programs will be trimmed, as will defense spending. Taxes will be raised. No constituency should be spared, the Simpson-Bowles report advised. Pain like that is bound to displease the voters and send timid politicians back to the safety of their do-nothing ideology.
Thus, the Super Committee was born out of the Republican brinksmanship over raising the debt ceiling earlier this year. An equal number of Republican and Democratic senators and representatives make up the 12-member committee. It was hoped — perhaps foolishly, given the state of things now — that a dozen Super Committee members could work out of the glare of Washington’s spotlight and craft a workable solution.
The group was given a deadline. Produce a plan by Nov. 23 or face automatic $1.2 trillion cuts that would spare only social safety-net programs. Only in the world of slow-moving and laborious legislation that is Washington could this be considered ripping the bandage off in one fell swoop, but there you have it.
Yet, news reports this week suggest the Super Committee is considering giving the can one more swift kick down the road. The New York Times reported that a Republican plan under serious consideration would make specific spending cuts but would put off the details of revenue increases until next year.
Speaking Sunday on CNN, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a Republican from Texas and a committee member, said, “There could be a two-step process that would hopefully give us pro-growth tax reform.” In other words, there’s too much heat even behind the firewall, so it’s time to pass the buck to someone else.
If the Super Committee cannot fulfill its mission, it will represent a failing of our politics. Republicans have made reducing the debt their primary focus since the 2010 elections. To get to this point and then merely offer more delay suggests politics more than economics is at play here.