GOP inflexibility stalls super-committee

For the better part of the year, congressional Republicans have insisted that debt reduction must be policymakers’ top priority. They don’t, however, really mean it.

In July, President Obama offered GOP officials a $4 trillion debt-reduction package, which was tilted heavily in their direction. Republicans rejected it. In September, the White House presented an even more sensible plan, cutting the debt by more than $3 trillion, only to see the GOP reject it, too.

And this week, Democrats on the so-called super-committee crafted a debt-reduction offer of their own. Care to guess how it was received?

A majority of the 6 Democrats on the 12-member panel threw their support behind a plan that they said incorporated some ideas discussed over the summer by President Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner.

The committee is charged with cutting budget deficits by a total of at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years. The Democratic plan would trim much more, a total of $2.5 trillion to $3 trillion, through cuts in the growth of federal entitlement programs, including Medicare, and more than $1 trillion in new tax revenues.

Congressional Republicans immediately dismissed the proposal out of hand, deeming it a non-starter. This, in turn, prompted Dems to leak word of their plan to the press — presenting Democrats as the ones committed to playing a constructive role, and Republicans as the ones who aren’t willing to compromise.

It’s worth noting, of course, that the “compromise” being offered by the panel’s Dems doesn’t look especially encouraging. In fact, it’s largely shaped on the Grand Bargain that the GOP refused to consider over the summer, trading entitlement cuts for tax revenue. The devil is always in the details, and the specific structure of the Dems’ offer hasn’t been released, but those Medicare cuts appear at first blush to be pretty deep.

That said, Democrats were smart to incorporate what really matters into their plan: by aiming for a larger debt-reduction target, Dems are also demanding economic stimulus as part of the package.

Ultimately, though, the entire exercise is pointless so long as Republicans refuse to consider additional tax revenue. There’s simply no way around this. Dems are willing to trade entitlements for tax revenue, while Republicans aren’t willing to trade anything for anything. It’s why the super-committee was doomed at the outset — GOP officials don’t want to cut the deficit; they want to shrink government. The panel’s Republican members have been tasked with a goal they have no sincere desire to reach.

The super-committee’s final recommendations are due Nov. 23, which is roughly five weeks away. At that point, assuming the panel fails, talk will turn to how best to deal with the “triggers” that would be due to take effect in January 2013.