The Supercommittee’s Stark Choice In August, Congressional Republicans tried to box in Democrats and the White House by demanding huge deficit cuts in exchange for preventing a government default. Then they joined in the creation of a “supercommit
The Supercommittee’s Stark Choice
In August, Congressional Republicans tried to box in Democrats and the
White House by demanding huge deficit cuts in exchange for preventing
a government default. Then they joined in the creation of a
“supercommittee” on deficit reduction that they hoped would take taxes
off the table and focus entirely on cuts in spending.
But that supposed victory has forced many Republicans into an equally
tight corner. They are starting to realize that if they remain
adamant, the resulting across-the-board cuts will disproportionately
affect programs they support, starting with military spending.
The joint committee created by the debt-ceiling agreement is
desperately groping behind closed doors for ways to cut at least $1.2
trillion from the federal deficit. Republican leaders want it all to
come from spending cuts; Democratic leaders want a mix of cuts and
revenue increases. If the two sides cannot agree, there will be
automatic cuts, which largely spare social-welfare programs but would
severely reduce military and security spending.
Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, who is happy to cut virtually anything
else, says military cuts could lead to job losses. Representative
Howard McKeon of California, the Armed Services Committee chairman, is
so rattled by the law that he used an old scare tactic, saying the
cuts could produce a new military draft. “It is my suspicion that the
White House and Congressional Democrats insisted on that defense
number for one purpose: to force Republicans to choose between raising
taxes or gutting defense,” Mr. McKeon said.
That is exactly the choice, and Republicans brought it on themselves
by turning the routine debt-ceiling vote into a life-or-death struggle
over the unrelated issue of taxes and spending. They have a way out,
however. President Obama has given the supercommittee a clear
blueprint for $3.6 trillion in deficit reduction through a mix of
spending cuts and tax increases on the rich. If the committee followed
even half of that program, it could exceed its original mandate, wrap
up its work quickly and accomplish a great deal.
Mr. McKeon is a rare Republican who says he would prefer the tax
increases to military spending cuts. But the White House proposal,
like virtually every good idea that has come up, has been removed from
the table by Republican leaders, who have resisted even Democratic
demands to allow the panel to add job creation to its mandate.
The committee has only one option, Speaker John Boehner said a few
days ago: cutting domestic spending and social-insurance programs,
including Medicare and Social Security. Representative Jeb Hensarling
of Texas, the co-chairman of the committee, said the president’s plan
was “undermining the work” of the group.
The opposite is true. Mr. Obama identified $570 billion in detailed
cuts to mandatory spending programs over 10 years. If committee
members actually looked at the plan, instead of dismissing it, they
would find scores of useful proposals for savings: $31 billion in
agriculture subsidies; $18.6 billion in Postal Service reform,
including ending Saturday delivery; $27.5 billion in increased fees
charged to lenders by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; $42.5 billion in
higher health premiums and pension contributions for federal and
military workers; $135 billion in less generous Medicare payments to
Most important, Mr. Obama would cut the deficit by $1.57 trillion with
new tax revenue. It is a good bet the Republican side of the panel
will reject it. Republicans want to preserve the programs they care
about, at the expense of programs for the elderly, the middle class
and the poor. But the president’s strong defense of his plan should at
least stiffen the spines of the six Democrats on the panel to refuse
any plan that relies entirely on cuts.
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