This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.
Americans don’t have much confidence in Congress these days, but they still have faith in the power of compromise.
Six out of 10 of those surveyed earlier this month told Gallup pollsters that the congressional super committee tasked with trimming the federal deficit should prioritize progress over principle.
A majority of Americans favor agreement even if the resulting deal is personally unpalatable.
If congressional party leaders are listening, it was hard to tell from the 12 plenipotentiaries they appointed last week to craft a bipartisan debt-reduction plan.
Democrats and Republicans alike played it safe, tapping reliable defenders of party orthodoxy and shunning those more likely to embrace unconventional approaches. Consider:
• Not one of the appointees belongs to the Senate’s Gang of Six, the bipartisan group that showed the willingness to make the kind of trade-offs that will be necessary to get to a sustainable budget.
• Four of the appointees also sat on President Barack Obama’s deficit commission. All four helped defeat the commission’s promising 10-year austerity plan.
• The six Republicans on the super committee have already declared tax increases a no-go.
And then there’s the Democratic co-chair, Washington’s own Patty Murray – known in recent years for getting results for her home state and fellow Democrats but not for rising above playing to her constituents.
Murray’s role as head of the campaign arm for Senate Democrats is also problematic. Her job is to raise money from some of the same interests whose oxen would be gored by any credible deal to reduce the federal deficit.
The super committee has until Nov. 23 to come up with a plan, a job that will require angering core Democratic and Republican supporters. If the panel fails, $1.2 trillion in cuts – to defense, education and other discretionary spending – automatically take force.
Left for another day would be tax reform and cuts to Medicare and other federal middle-class entitlements, key elements of true long-term deficit reduction.
Lawmakers will have to go there eventually. The country won’t begin to emerge from its economic malaise until its leaders deal seriously with federal debt.
May Murray and the others prove the pessimists wrong. While vocal minorities may clamor for someone else to bear the necessary sacrifice, the majority of Americans understand that shared pain is the order of the day.
Those Americans are hungry for leaders who are finally willing to talk hard truths, and they desperately want a reason to be optimistic about the future once again. Congress fails them at the country’s and the economy’s peril.