Our government has the time to worry about school lunch menus in Boise, Idaho, but the U.S. Senate hasn’t found the time to pass a budget in Washington, D.C., in nearly three years. H.L. Mencken famously wrote that every decent man is ashamed of his government. This one gives you little choice.
Gridlock is ordinarily the most constructive and moral form of government, but with entitlement programs on autopilot self-destruct, we’re in trouble. So Americans turned their weary eyes toward a dream team, a super committee, a 12-member panel of our brightest lights, charged with identifying a measly $1.2 trillion in deficit savings over 10 years. Save us.
Alas, for Democrats, it boiled down to the most important issue facing the nation — maybe ever: “revenue enhancement.”
Politico reported that during the super committee hearing, both sides agreed to produce “wish lists” to offer some notion of where negotiations might go. Republicans — believe them or not — claimed to want to save $700 billion by block granting Medicaid, another $400 billion in spending cuts, $1.4 trillion in cuts to some mandatory health-care programs and about $150 billion in cuts to the federal work force.
Democrats, on the other hand, reportedly wanted to pass a new $447 billion spending bill (perhaps forgetting that this was a wish list for a deficit reduction committee) and $1 trillion in tax hikes on those 1-percenters. Since Washington spent $1 trillion more than it took in just last year, this would provide nearly no purpose over 10 years — well, other than a political one.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — taking a break from fending off fictional goblins, Kochs and Norquists — laid out his position, explaining that Republicans had undermined the entire process by insisting “on expanding President Bush’s tax giveaways to millionaires.” The good Lord, you see, created every dollar for the U.S. Treasury to spend wisely; what you keep is a gift — a giveaway. Every tax cut is temporary, and every tax increase is a new base line. That’s just how it works.
And the good senator from Nevada must be making a compelling case. A new poll by Quinnipiac University claims that 44 percent of Americans blame Republicans for the super committee’s failure, whereas 38 percent blame Democrats. This, notwithstanding the fact that the same poll shows, by a 49 to 39 percent margin, Americans prefer closing the deficit with spending cuts only. (That is what democracy looks like.)
The committee’s failure allegedly means that an automatic $1.2 trillion in cuts should kick in. It won’t happen. Some Republicans are already grousing about defense cuts, and the newly involved President Barack Obama — the guardian of frugality — has warned Congress that he would veto any cuts to the automatic cuts. Will anyone slash any defense spending before an election? Doubtful.
Granted, the GOP talks a big game about reform but offers very little in the way of specifics. Republicans do, however, deserve credit for stopping tax increases until both parties start the discussion on entitlement reform. One side doesn’t define what compromise should look like. The super committee’s failure is victory because any so-called compromise would have meant the institution of tax hikes, and spending cuts would only be as good as the next Congress’ emergency or new priority.
But everyone understands that this entire process was theater. If members of Congress, with a $15 trillion debt and a trillion-dollar yearly deficit, can’t find $1.2 trillion to cut in 10 years, the only reason is they aren’t serious.