The Dems’ wasted super-committee opportunity

This week, Democrats on the so-called super-committee crafted a $3 trillion debt-reduction package, far exceeding the panel’s mandated target. Dems were apparently offering a two-to-one deal to the GOP: Democrats would accept $2 trillion in spending cuts (including entitlement cuts Dems don’t like) in exchange for $1 trillion in tax revenue.

It was intended as a constructive proposal that requires sacrifice and compromise on both sides. Republicans didn’t see it that way, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) rejected the moderate Dem plan as unacceptable.

But he wasn’t the only one. Leaders on the left were able to get more details on the Democratic super-committee offer, and the closer they looked, the less they saw to like. Yesterday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, for example, helped lead the charge against the plan, insisting it conceded far too much to the right.

Liberal critics were bolstered by a stinging analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The new deficit-reduction plan from a majority of Democrats on the congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the “supercommittee”) marks a dramatic departure from traditional Democratic positions — and actually stands well to the right of plans by the co-chairs of the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson commission and the Senate’s “Gang of Six,” and even further to the right of the plan by the bipartisan Rivlin-Domenici commission.

The Democratic plan contains substantially smaller revenue increases than those bipartisan proposals while, for example, containing significantly deeper cuts in Medicare and Medicaid than the Bowles-Simpson plan. The Democratic plan features a substantially higher ratio of spending cuts to revenue increases than any of the bipartisan plans.

I’m trying to imagine what committee Dems were thinking. If they’d presented this plan as the final compromise agreement — the culmination of months of hard-fought negotiations — and said it was the best available deal that Republicans would accept, we could at least have a conversation about it.

But it’s not. This is the Democratic offer to GOP members of the super-committee — an offer Republicans quickly dismissed out of hand for being too liberal. It sets the benchmark for the Dems’ position well to the right of what makes sense.

If Democrats on the super-committee thought Republicans would appreciate the concessions and respond in kind, they’re terribly naive. Indeed, this was plainly evident when the GOP produced their counter-offer and it was a far-right joke with no meaningful concessions at all.

Maybe Dems assume the negotiations will fail, and just wanted to look “serious” and “reasonable” in the eyes of the political establishment? They’re hoping to make clear which party will ultimately be responsible for the breakdown of the super-committee process? Even if that is the plan, that doesn’t explain why Dems on the panel couldn’t present a more sensible approach, putting the party on record supporting a smarter, more popular, and more progressive debt agenda.

What a wasted opportunity. What a terrible mistake.