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For Supercommittee, Failure Was an Option

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
A few months ago, Washington's big bad wolf was Republicans' refusal to compromise by supporting any deficit reduction plan that included tax increases. Republicans were unreasonable, editorial pages fulminated, obstructionist and standing in the way of meaningful reform.

On Monday, the supercommittee admitted it had failed to cut $1.2 trillion from the deficit over 10 years. Citizens Against Government Waste spokeswoman Leslie K. Paige called it "the unpardonable turkey." At least this turkey cannot be laid on the GOP's doorstep.

Last week, a Republican on the supercommittee did try to compromise. As Politico reported, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., offered a 10-year, $1.5 trillion debt reduction plan that would raise about $500 billion in new revenue while cutting spending by $750 billion.

Toomey is about the last Republican you would expect to support an increase in taxes. When the freshman senator was president of the Club for Growth, the organization was a champion of supply-side economics and thought Republicans who were willing to compromise on taxes were a scourge. Toomey's very placement on the 12-member bipartisan supercommittee reinforced the Beltway view that Republicans would not try to cut a deal.

Toomey comes from the school that contends that Washington has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Democrats advocate raising tax rates on the rich to address the deficit; Republicans believe that such increases could topple the shaky U.S. economy. The middle-ground position holds that flatter federal taxes -- with lower rates but fewer deductions -- could yield more revenue and spark economic growth.


"If I were king, I wouldn't do it this way," Toomey told Politico. "I'd do it differently, but I'm not king."

But Democrats didn't bite. They have been content to watch the cookie crumble -- as long as they can complain that Republicans should have agreed to raise not just taxes on the rich but also their tax rates.

Here's an about-face. The right laments the lack of a deal. Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a statement: "It is disappointing that the supercommittee was unable to achieve pro-growth tax reform and meaningful spending cuts. By avoiding doing the responsible thing now, Congress is embracing devastating consequences later."

But some Republicans are gleeful. Even before the supercommittee announced that it had failed, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said failure would be "good for America."

Nonsense. The supercommittee's failure is bad for America. It sends the message that Washington wants to put off all reform until after the 2012 elections.

Or later, much later.

With no package, a trigger mechanism will cut $1.2 trillion from spending, half from the military. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned that the new cuts, on top of $350 billion in previous cuts, will "totally hollow out the force."


Congress might find a way to undermine the trigger cuts, but that simply would put off the inevitable reform of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

It's like continuing to charge things on your credit card when you barely can meet the minimum payments. The later the fix the deeper the bite.

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