The special congressional “super committee” that was created to develop a long-term plan to address the nation’s deficit has apparently failed in its mission. The panel, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, was given a deadline of November 23 to reach agreement on a plan. The committee was created after the President and Congress resolved the stalemate over raising the nation’s debt ceiling, but could not come to terms with a larger package to cut the nation’s long-term debt.
At the heart of the disagreement on Capitol Hill is the Democrats demand for an adjustment of the tax code to reflect higher rates for wealthy taxpayers and the Republicans steadfast refusal to consider any tax increase. We consider the GOP’s stand a deliberate act to sabotage a long-term agreement, and agree with most Americans, including Republicans, that revenues must be a part of any sustainable deficit reduction plan. In fact, the consideration of taxes and other revenue was part of the deal struck to create the deficit panel. The Republicans insistence that only spending cuts be part of the package has backfired, and public opinion polls reflect the low regard Americans have for their elected representatives in the House and Senate. In fact, public confidence in Congress is at a historic low and for good reason.
What caused this paralysis are the tax cuts that were enacted under the administration of President George W. Bush that benefited the affluent though there was no rationale for such a generous concession. Combined with spending on two wars authorized by the Bush White House, the policy choices of that administration sunk the nation into tremendous debt. Though President Obama has publicly expressed his commitment to end the Bush era tax cuts, Congress, most notably House Republicans, have firmly opposed any attempt to rescind the cuts. Meanwhile, Republicans on the Hill have signed a “no-tax” pledge that is the creation of right-wing activist Grover Norquist, and have hid shamelessly behind the pledge causing the deadlock we are now witnessing in Congress.
The larger question now looming is whether the sequestration or automatic cuts that the law mandates if the deficit committee fails to reach agreement will be triggered. To his credit, President Obama has stood his ground and sent a stern message to Congress yesterday that he will veto any bill that attempts to undo the sequestration. Under the rules of the deficit committee, a failure to reach agreement is supposed to trigger cuts of 50% in military spending and cuts in other programs such as Medicare and Medicaid to reach the goal of cutting $1.2 trillion over the next ten years. Some of the cuts are so unthinkable the thought was that members of Congress would come to their senses and cut a deal on the deficit. Apparently not. Republicans on the Hill are so desperate to inflict political damage on President Obama that they are recklessly pursuing electoral aims at the expense of the welfare of the nation. All that seems to matter to the Republican leadership is taking back the White House in 2012 and they are determined to use whatever means necessary to oppose the President; even if it means hurting their own constituents for short-term gain.
The Republican leadership in the House and Senate has been deplorable. Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are equally at fault for playing games with our nation’s long-term financial security. Both men are well aware that any rational deficit reduction plan must represent the “balanced” approach called for by President Obama, and include tax revenue, but they do not have the courage to do what is right for fear of ostracizing an element in the GOP that is irrational and patently racist in some regard. What is driving the right’s no tax stand is their anger over the Obama presidency and their sense that by cutting off government spending those groups most likely to benefit – people of color and the poor – will be made politically impotent. What they did not calculate is that their animosity toward the President would be matched and actually exceeded by the disgust of the American public in Republican leadership in Congress.
Now that the “game” is over, it is time for a mass political mobilization to support progressive tax policy and broader initiatives to create equity, provide economic security for American families and individuals and expand democratic participation.