The congressional supercommittee was supposed to make all of the hard budgetary choices that representatives couldn't be trusted to make on their own. As the final deadline looms, it's looking like the end result will be the imposition of fake spending cuts and real tax hikes.
The debt-ceiling deal struck earlier this year gave this extraordinary panel until Nov. 23 to submit its decisions to the Congressional Budget Office and avoid triggering $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts - half from defense. The committee is supposed to find that amount in deficit reduction over 10 years in order to compensate for the next bump up in the debt ceiling.
A meeting of the minds isn't likely because, even behind closed doors, Democrats refuse to address the real drivers of our debt: Medicare and Medicaid. Republican Medicare reform proposals include the Ryan plan and the bipartisan Rivlin-Domenici plan. The supercommittee gave both sides bipartisan cover to implement the necessary but politically difficult changes such as means testing and increasing the eligibility age.
Real discretionary spending cuts are just as unlikely. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the supercommittee co-chairman, told CNN this isn't likely to change. "Frankly, there are no real spending cuts on the table," the Texas Republican said. "All we are talking about here is slowing the rate of growth. All of these programs, by and large, are going to continue to grow, but at a pace that would become more sustainable." With no real cuts in any government programs, the only way to make up the difference is revenue.
Democrats are counting on being able to tell their liberal base that they're sticking it to "the rich" and making corporate America pay more. Republicans have shown some willingness to go along with about $500 million in tax hikes, half from taking away some deductions on higher-income filers, in exchange for lowering marginal rates.
The tax code is so complex that it isn't possible to make quick changes. So members are considering writing modifications to the system broadly and pushing off the specifics as something to be done through regular legislative business. This two-stage process gives the advantage to Democratic tax hikes as marginal-rate changes get pushed off and bogged down.
Both sides will be saying the sky is falling if the supercommittee doesn't reach a deal, but the drama is contrived. The supercommittee will come to an agreement in time, with smoke-and-mirror spending "cuts" in the out years. There will be no change to entitlement programs. Republicans will fall for empty promises and trade tax hikes for future tax reform that will never happen.
It's business as usual in Washington, and that's why our $15 trillion national debt continues to grow.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
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