Supercommittee Failure Blame Game Underway
Reports suggested Monday that the bipartisan Supercommittee charged with finding $1.2 trillion in savings in the U.S. budget has failed, but lawmakers and others began assigning blame even before the breakdown was officially announced.
Neither Democrats nor Republicans on the committee appear to have budged on entitlement cuts or tax increases, respectively. Supercommitte member Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass) has placed blame on Republicans for refusing to consider increasing revenue. He called anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist the "13th member of the committee."
"I can't tell you how many times I heard about the pledge," Kerry told CNN, referring to a promise many Republicans have made not to raise taxes. Democrats have proposed $1.3 trillion in spending cuts and $1.3 trillion in revenue increases over the next decade, Kerry said.
Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidates are pouncing on President Barack Obama, implying that he should have taken a more direct role. "Obama, again, is failing Americans, providing no leadership," Herman Cain said in a statement.
Democrats have attacked Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) as one of the key impediments to compromise. Kyl pushed back against those claims.
Kyl said on CNBC that the real problem was that incentives were aligned for the Democrats to avoid compromise. Failure, Kyl noted, would lead to "the biggest tax hike in the history of the country" when the Bush tax cuts expire in 2013, as well as to automatic cuts to "their favorite program, namely national defense," and the campaign advantage that "the president gets to keep his message there's a dysfunctional Congress."
"The incentives probably did not align as we thought they might ... once the other side made the calculation that they needed someone to blame because there wasn't time to make the economy better," Kyl said.
Calif. Congressman and Supercommittee member Xavier Beccera called the committee a "missed opportunity" on the Madeleine Brand Show, saying that no compromise could be made with special interests holding politicians' feet to the fire. "If we can't hang those up, it's difficult to believe you can come to the table and find the middle road."
While the mainstream press broadly characterized the Supercommittee's breakdown as an embarrassing failure and an example of congressional incompetence, the committee's inaction may actually reduce the debt more than any compromise could have.
E.J. Dionne wrote last week in the Washington Post that a total congressional stalemate could, among other things, allow temporary tax breaks to expire and reduce the debt by about $7.1 trillion over 10 years.
The cuts would begin with the automatic "trigger" cuts that will take place next year if a deal is not reached. Split between security and non-security spending, the cuts will total $1.2 trillion.
Floundering debt talks open the door for the expiration of the so-called Bush tax cuts. To a pure deficit hawk, argues analyst Matthew Yglesias, the failure may be the best possible outcome.
By failing, in other words, not only did the Supercommittee preserve a larger set of spending cuts than would have been enacted if they succeeded, they preserved the current-law baseline. That means that if the White House follows through on its threat to veto any full extension of the Bush tax cuts, we’ll get both more tax increases and more spending cuts than we would have if they’d succeeded.
Reach Ryan Faughnder here.