All Signs Are That Deficit Reduction Committee Will Accomplish Nothing

Maya MacGuineas, who heads the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, is one of the smartest budget people I know.  So when Maya says (at least, as I’ve been told she has said) that the membership of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction is in a great position to sell a comprehensive deficit reduction plan that includes revenue increases as well as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security reductions because — in a Nixon-goes–to-China-like situation — it will have the political credibility to sell the plan, I listen.

But there’s one very basic flaw in Maya’s thinking: Being able to sell a plan to other Republicans and Democrats first requires that the committee agree on a plan and all the signs say no way/no how/ain’t gonna happen.

The two most recent indications that the super committee is doomed to fail are its membership, which was completed yesterday when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) named her three appointees, and an extremely important moment in last night’s GOP presidential candidate debate in Iowa.

The membership question is easy to see: All of those selected to serve on the committee are coming to the deliberations with  uncompromisable positions on the issues that need to be compromised if the deliberations are to be successful.  Three of the appointees — Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) and Reps. Dave Camp (R-MI) and Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) ) were members of the Bowles-Simpson commission and indicated that there were against the comprehensive plan the two co-chairmen recommended (there was no formal vote).  All six of the GOP appointees have taken the no-tax increase pledge.  Although they haven’t signed a piece of paper pledging not to cut Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security, none of the Democratic appointees have shown any willingness to do compromise unilaterally on that…that is, they have only been willing to consider those changes  if…and only if…Republicans agree to increase taxes.

None of this is the stuff that budget compromises are made of.

The important moment in last night’s GOP debate in Iowa came when every candidate on the stage raised her or his hand to say they’d reject a 10-1 spending-cuts-to-tax-increase deficit reduction deal.  In other words, even the most extreme tax increase to spending cut formula that has been mentioned in recent times — or maybe ever — was dismissed out of hand. 

Even if they were inclined to agree to something like that, the GOP members of the committee can now be certain that they will be heavily criticized by senior members of their own party.  A comprehensive deal like that would become an instant campaign fodder that House and Senate Republicans would vote against.  You won’t want to put yourself in that position if you’re a GOP member of the committee.

How polarized are the Joint Select Committee’s members as the debate begins?  This graph from Enik Rising gives you one indication.

Maya is right, of course: A compromise from these folks definitely would change the politics of reducing the deficit and make a plan much more acceptable.  It’s just very hard to see how they get there from here.

[Cross-posted at Capital Gains & Games]