Steve Chapman

Repudiating the whole budget plan right away might be too blatant for either party to embrace. But critics in Congress know that over time, it's not hard to find ways to circumvent, relax or scrap the original requirements.

That's the bad news. The worse news is that even if the supercommittee were to approve a plan, we would not be making progress, but merely buying time.

Cutting $1.2 trillion from the deficit over 10 years would mean the federal debt would continue to grow. The supercommittee, according to the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, needs to double or triple the savings "to put debt on a clear, downward path by the end of the decade."

Getting that amount of deficit reduction would require each party to swallow something it abhors. For Republicans, it's tax changes to boost federal revenue. For Democrats, it's reductions in what retirees will get from Social Security and Medicare.

Democrats on the supercommittee reportedly would be willing to ratify a "grand bargain" to reach $3 trillion in deficit savings. But Republicans rejected the idea because it would include tax increases.

That's a poor excuse. The burden of the federal government is a function of how much it spends, not how much it taxes. Averting a tax increase is no bargain if it means letting outlays continue their upward climb, carrying the nation to fiscal ruin.

There is no guarantee that the Democrats would really accept significant curbs on their favorite programs. Republicans, however, could only gain from insisting that Americans pay for all the government they get -- and get only what they are willing to pay for.

But politicians and their constituents generally resist unwelcome changes until harsh reality forces them to change. The longer we wait the harsher it will be.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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