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Supercommittee’s failure bodes ill for nation

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Nov. 22, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
November 22, 2011 5:46 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Supercommittee? More like Sad Sack committee.

Today was the deadline for the 12 members of Congress charged with charting a path toward national solvency. By Thanksgiving, they were supposed to have produced a package of measures to reduce the U.S. government’s debt – which just exceeded $15 trillion – by $1.2 trillion.

The total reduction they came up with: $0.

All their fumblings and failures played out against a truly alarming background: the crumbling of Europe’s economy under the weight of unsupportable debt and many years of unsustainable spending by southern European countries. That crisis threatens to kill America’s weak, flickering recovery and drag us right back into recession.

You would think that the cataclysmic unfolding of Europe’s folly – that’s our future, folks! – would persuade Republicans, Democrats, anybody, to throw out the old partisan talking points and reach a serious deficit-cutting agreement. Instead we get partisan gridlock in Congress, which led to the creation of the supercommittee, which promptly settled into its own partisan gridlock.

Republican and Democratic leaders are frantically blaming each other for the collapse, hoping the voters will punish the other party in the 2012 elections. That tells you where their hearts are.

Within the supercommittee, there actually were moves toward compromise. On the Republican side, Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania abandoned the GOP’s no-taxes-or-the-lady-dies posture and suggested $300 billion in revenue measures. Some Democrats were willing to pare back Medicare, Social Security and other entitlements.

In the end, though, the supercommittee – like Congress – didn’t have enough statesmen or stateswomen willing to put the nation’s interests above their party’s – or their own careers, for that matter.

There is only one way to avert a crippling tide of government debt: a combination of serious long-term tax increases and entitlement cuts. Republicans look at the problem in terms of too much spending; Democrats sometimes talk as if taxing the rich more will fix everything.

Let’s stipulate that one or the other is 100 percent right. There’s still the inescapable political reality that neither party can solve the problem without meeting the other part way.

At a minimum, the supercommittee could have offered the quarter-compromise of several hundred billion dollars that appeared acceptable to most of its members. It could also have extended the break on payroll taxes that has helped keep money circulating in the economy. That much would have been something, at least, and it might have set a better tone for future negotiations.

But the temptation to keep on pandering and battling for advantage was just too strong. The supercommittee failed, and its failure was rooted in Congress, in party leadership and – yes – in the attitudes of many ordinary Americans who don’t want to part with another cent in taxes or government benefits.

None of them wants to see the United States go the way of Greece. They all insist they care about the country’s future. But taken as a whole, they just don’t care enough.

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