That is especially so because a majority of Democrats on the supercommittee have put forward a balanced plan that, if anything, tilted significantly in the GOP’s direction. The Democrats’ offer, which would have raised taxes less than the Simpson-Bowles debt reduction commission and made deeper cuts in discretionary spending, was summarily dismissed by Republicans. They offered up an alternative that purported to raise $640 billion in revenue but only managed that number through phony accounting gimmicks. The only guaranteed increase in tax revenue was a piddling $40 billion over 10 years.
The Republican betting seems to be that there is no pressing need to go down this unpleasant road: The automatic, and draconian, cuts that would ensue if the supercommittee fails to reach its debt reduction target will not take effect until January 2013. Congress could vote to waive them, and the elections a year from now could strengthen the GOP’s political hand.
Giving in to this reasoning and letting the supercommittee fail would be an enormous mistake. It’s not generally our business to give political advice to either party, but Republicans weighing the let-it-fail path would do well to consider voters’ already volcanic anger at gridlock and partisanship in Washington. Perhaps the markets have already adjusted for the likelihood that the supercommittee will be unable to reach consensus, but that’s not a certain bet. Further, Republicans ought to worry about getting the power they wish for. Having control of the presidency and both houses of Congress would mean that the GOP would bear the full political brunt of the painful choices that will have to be made.
It is late, but not yet too late. Some of the committee’s GOP members, notably House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), are working hard to craft an agreement. The Democratic plan, put out by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), included some significant concessions from the Democrats’ standpoint: The cost-of-living index for calculating changes in Social Security benefits would be altered and would result in lower payouts. There would be significant cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. Democrats have made a serious offer, one that has produced howls from their allies. Now it is time for Republicans to untangle themselves from their self-imposed straitjacket of anti-tax pledges and negotiate for the greater good.