Sunday, November 20, 2011

Today Is Admission of Failure Day

Sometime today, probably in the evening, the co-chairs of the Supercommittee of 12, Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, will come forward, together or separately, and admit that the group has failed in its appointed task to come up with a package of deficit reduction proposals for Congress to review and approve. Technically, they have two more days to get the proposals passed, but House rules require posting a bill 48 hours before it's voted upon, so no posting today means no bill by the deadline of the 23rd, thus its failure.

This result is certainly no surprise; I predicted as much as soon as the concept was announced in the Big Deal Deal of August, even before the members of the committee were named (which basically clinched inertia). I don't fear in the slightest the "mandatory" cuts which must, by law, follow this absence of legislation. I would describe the billion dollars in spending cuts, half from defense, some from discretionary spending, and a tiny bit from Medicare, as "a good start". They won't kick in until 2013, anyway, and the lame duck Congress will change them at the end of 2012, or if not then, whatever Congress comes in after the 2012 elections will change them in 2013. Or not, and I'm fine with that, too.

I would suggest that the Democrats make a surprise ploy in the final hours, one last-ditch attempt to do the Big Deal for real. Half a billion in phased tax increases, half a billion more from restructuring the tax code (details TBD), half a billion from defense, half a billion from discretionary, half a billion in interest saving, and half a billion from Medicare and Social Security combined. It would never pass the committee, or the House, or the Senate, but it has the benefits of simplicity and fairness, and would put the Democrats on the right side of the moral divide.

In time, I think the collapse of the supercommittee's deliberations will be seen as the Pyrrhic victory of Grover Norquist. His "no tax increase" pledge bound all of the relevant Republican Congresspeople such that they could not propose anything that was reasonable. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania did make a late proposal for $300 billion in increased revenue through removing some tax deductions; I have the feeling he got a waiver from Norquist because it included a clause to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, something which would lose much more than the $300 billion in revenue he claimed to produce, as compared to letting the tax cuts expire through inaction--something which now seems very likely.

It will be Pyrrhic because Norquist's Folk (sounds like a tribe of dwarves), now to be known not as the GOP but the "GNP", as in Grover Norquist Party, will bear the brunt of the failure--which will be manifested by end of day today or tomorrow in the form of a big market sell-off and downgrading of US debt. A few more Republicans will dare to leave his camp of indentured servants, and a few more will end up paying the political price next year. Pretty soon it will be like having voted for the invasion of Iraq--a political embarrassment for those who can't effectively repudiate it. Unpopular as tax increases are, and will remain, the Pledge will be an albatross, an artifact of the decrepit House of Orange.

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