The deal would raise the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion in two stages, and provide initially for $917 billion in spending cuts over 10 years. A special committee of lawmakers would be charged with finding another $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, which could come through a tax overhaul and changes to safety-net programs.
If the committee doesn’t find at least $1.2 trillion in savings, or Congress doesn’t adopt its proposals, a pre-set array of spending cuts would kick in, including cuts in military spending and Medicare payments to health-care providers.
According to the latest plans, committee members would only have a few months to complete the job, and when – if – they approve a final set of cuts, the rest of Congress would be given a simple choice: take them or leave them.
The make-up of the committee will be everything, and even one GOP senator or representative who wants tax hikes or deep defense cuts will force a vote on the whole package. By the same token, if even one Democratic appointee wants to tackle entitlements out of a sense of responsibility to his or her children and grandchildren, a vote on the urgently needed reforms of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security will be forthcoming in a matter of months.
In short, Sophocles has it right: “One must wait until the evening to see how good the day has been.” Divided government is said to be the moment when serious reform can occur, but the Chicago gang has never been about reform but rather the accumulation of power for themselves and the extension of subsidies to their pals and allies. Don’t ask whether reform of Social Security and the other entitlements is good for the country, ask whether it will get the president re-elected and you can anticipate the White House’s reaction to the eventual deal.
I hope the GOP brings its A Team –its smartest members and its best staff. Seniority ought to have nothing to do with this, but actual grasp of the issues, staff back-up and a genuine appreciation of the looming debt crisis.
Unlike the Debt Commission which wasn’t guaranteed a vote, or the Senate’s Gang of Six which convened itself without authority or buy-in, the supercommittee has legitimacy and a schedule. It could deliver an urgently needed set of reforms in which case this will be a key moment in modern American history when the federal government came to grips with fiscal reality, but if it brings back more taxes to spend and more cuts to make at Defense with only token tweaks at entitlement central, this will have been a fiasco.
They should, but won’t, work in secrecy. They should, but won’t, work pretty much around the clock. And they should bar K Street from being within a mile of the members, an impossibility.
The GOP will thus have to be ready to match leak for leak and trial balloon with trial balloon. There’s a best-selling book in this committee, so let’s hope someone is keeping notes.
My suggested members: Jon Kyl, Pat Toomey and Kelly Ayotte from the Senate; Paul Ryan, Dave Camp and John Campbell from the House. Three of these are obvious choices –Kyl, Ryan and Camp have senior positions in leadership.
Campbell and Toomey have great credibility on fiscal issues and a grasp of the budget down to its details, and Campbell’s speech to the House Conference on Thursday may have won him some friends in a leadership looking for ways to keep the GOP together.
Ayotte is young and very smart, new eyes for old problems and someone likely to be around the Senate for decades to come to be in a position to
pass on institutional knowledge. She is also a tremendous communicator over the airwaves which the GOP will need. So are some of the others. That is key, and sadly within Republican circles, forgotten until it is too late to repair.
Here’s the key chart which I hope hangs on the wall of every meeting of the supercommittee:
It isn’t a revenue problem. It is a spending problem.
A programming note: I’ll be back on Sean Hannity’s show tonight with none other than Pat Caddell. Watch to see if I use the secret word again tonight.