A fog of partisan blame has engulfed Washington, as both parties maneuver to win the messaging war over the impending demise of Congress' bipartisan special debt panel, otherwise known as the "Super Committee." The White House, predictably, is fingering Congressional Republicans as the true culprits -- while un-ironically demanding that everyone else cease the blame game:
Carney lashed out at Republicans who have sought to blame President Obama for the failure of the supercommittee, which is expected later on Monday to announce its inability to agree to a deal to cut at least $1.2 trillion from annual deficits. “Instead of pointing fingers and playing the blame game, Congress should act and fulfill its responsibility,” Carney said at the White House daily briefing. "Congress assigned itself a job, assigned twelve of its own members a task, a task that wasn’t really that difficult to achieve,” Carney said. “There wasn’t a seat at that table, as far as I’m aware, for a member of the administration.”
Carney is right about one thing: This ball was in Congress' court, and they've booted it. My inbox is filling up with missives from Republican presidential hopefuls and members of Congress piling on Obama for the resulting mess, but that's not entirely fair. Yes, the president has failed -- spectacularly and repeatedly -- to offer productive leadership on the debt issue. The nation experienced its first-ever credit downgrade, on his watch. Yes, he signed the debt deal, which created the Super Committee, back in August. His base is still furious. And yes, he demonstrated absolutely no interest in helping broker a high-stakes deal as the proverbial clock ticked down to the pre-Thanksgiving deadline. He seemed to prefer failure, a result that would keep intact his blame-the-do-nothing-"Republican"-Congress routine. (Speaking of which, Obama signed two more elements of the Republican jobs plan into law just today. Damn that Party Of No, or something).
Still, this joint committee was Congress' show, and its leaders bear most of the responsibility for its super collapse. But which leaders? I'll concede that many Republicans signed onto the original debt deal this summer, so they share partial ownership for this mess. That being said, it was the actions of Hill Democrats that really torpedoed the latest debt-cutting effort. First, let it be known that the entire "Super Committee" concept was invented by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- he who believes the private sector is doing "just fine" and that excessive regulations don't kill jobs. Once committee deliberations began in earnest, Republican members put forward two reasonable proposals. The first, advanced by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), lowered personal and corporate tax rates across the board, included $300 Billion in new revenues (a major concession, which enraged many conservatives), as well as hundreds in billions in cuts -- including some very modest entitlement reforms. Several Democrats on the committee reportedly seemed open to embracing the plan, only to retreat when the larger caucus nixed it and demanded much larger tax increases (in the neighborhood of $1 Trillion, an obvious non-starter).
The second GOP-backed option was a last-ditch appeal to slice the "lowest-hanging fruit" from federal spending, which also would have eliminated the virtually meaningless "corporate jet tax break" Democrats have stupidly demagogued for months. All of this would have only achieved slightly more than half of the committee's $1.2 Trillion goal, but it would have at least accomplished something. Democrats, again, said no -- despite having produced no serious, unified counteroffer at any stage of the process. The Washington Post's Marc Thiessen explains:
The Democrats rejected the GOP offer. Sen. Patty Murray, Democratic co-chairman of the supercommittee, declared “it does not meet, even close to coming to meet, the issues that we set out from the beginning: fair and balanced.” Translation: Democrats won’t sign on to any spending cuts, no matter how modest, if Republicans do not agree to massive tax increases...If the $640 billion in spending cuts Republicans proposed are unacceptable to the Democrats, why don’t they cut $400 billon? Or $200 billion? Or $100 billion? Something? Anything? Democrats seem intent on letting the supercommittee crash and burn rather than making a less-than-optimal emergency landing.
The result of this obstinacy is now clear: The supercommittee appears to be headed toward failure. And this may be precisely what the Democrats want. With President Obama’s approval ratings in the tank, and their party poised to lose control of the Senate in 2012, Democrats know their only hope to stave off electoral disaster is to run a negative campaign that paints Republicans as intransigent extremists. They may have concluded that a bipartisan agreement on debt reduction — especially one in which the GOP agreed to hundreds of billions in tax increases — would undermine that narrative.
Thiessen concludes that Democrats won't be able to blame Republican intransigence for the stalemate because the GOP has offered all of the compromises. That doesn't mean they won't try, though. Remember, Republicans offered a forward-thinking budget blueprint for 2012, which would have reduced deficits by at least $4 Trillion over ten years. The Left lied about it incessantly, and defeated it. President Obama put forward a surreal alternative, which would have added nearly $10 Trillion to the debt over the same period and deliberately ignored the findings of his own fiscal commission. And Senate Democrats offered precisely nada. They continue to shirk their budget responsibilities and have refused to offer their own plan have for nearly 1,000 days. None of those facts have prevented the Left from shamelessly shrieking about Republicans' responsibility for everything that ails Washington -- and it certainly won't stop them from sounding the exact same note in the wake of the Super Committee flop. Will the media vigorously report on the fact that every slapdash Democratic "compromise" featured trillion-dollar tax increases and more "stimulus" spending? Or will they gobble up Democrats' perfidious, lazy narrative? Gee, I wonder.
I'll leave you with this clip of Newt the soothsayer, who saw this all coming:
Even as conservatives like Ann Coulter, George F. Will, Jen Rubin, and Tim Carney hammer away at the former Speaker (and many of their arguments are compelling), Gingrich deserves credit for hitting this nail on its super-doomed head from the beginning.
UPDATE - Quite a catch by Heritage Action. Sen. Kerry -- a Super Committee member -- admitted on MSNBC that (a) the American people are headed for a "major tax increase" on January 1, 2013 if the Bush rates are allowed to expire, and (b) that the "cuts" being debated in Washington are premised on baseline budgeting...and therefore aren't really cuts at all:
This is always the trick Washington uses. Even Paul Ryan's supposedly "draconian" entitlement reform "cuts" merely slow the rate of totally unsustainable growth in Medicare expenditures. Incidentally, Kerry's been telling a lot of truth recently, which is odd.
UPDATE II - A new Quinnipiac poll contains mixed news for Republicans. The public supports the GOP's approach to debt reduction, but (narrowly) blames them for the impasse:
A debt-reduction plan should include spending cuts only, 49 percent of voters say, while 39 percent want a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts. Support for spending cuts only is 73 - 21 percent among Republicans and 45 - 41 percent among independent voters, while Democrats want a mix of cuts and tax hikes 56 - 33 percent. Support for cuts only is 52 - 32 percent among voters making less than $30,000 per year, dropping to 51 - 41 percent among voters making more than $100,000 per year. Voters blame Republicans in Congress more than President Obama and congressional Democrats 44 - 38 percent. Independent voters blame Republicans more 44 - 35 percent.
UPDATE III - It's official. The "Super Committee" will not reach a deal. What a joke. Again, Republicans have the facts on their side to indict Congressional Democrats for this failure -- which I think would be much more persuasive than just pointing at Obama. Reminding people of Obama's lack of leadership and disastrous proposals is fine, but attacking him for this specific bust will sound desperate. Toomey strikes the right tone with his statement, just in:
"The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction had an extraordinary opportunity to pass legislation that would have generated millions of jobs through a reformed tax system and put our government on a path to fiscal sanity by cutting spending. Unfortunately, this opportunity has been wasted. I am saddened and disappointed that we were unable to meet our goal when so many Americans were counting on us. My Republican colleagues and I proposed a compromise that offered the other side revenue as they demanded. This plan was even hailed by the second highest ranking Democrat in the Senate as a 'breakthrough.' Like the proposals offered by other bipartisan commissions, our proposal offered a mix of spending cuts, revenue, and job-creating tax reform that would have lowered tax rates for all Americans and reduced our deficit by $1.2 trillion. Unfortunately, our Democratic colleagues refused to agree to any meaningful deficit reduction without $1 trillion in job-crushing tax increases."
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography
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