As part of the debt ceiling deal signed off on last week, a “Super-Committee” was created to decide on the next round of spending cuts and reforms that will make up $1.3T in deficits. This committee is made up of six Republicans and six Democrats, with three of each coming from the House and Senate respectively.
It’s important to note that if the committee does not agree on further cuts before the end of November, cuts will be automatically be made, with 50% coming from defense spending. This would seem to be an incentive for both sides to put members on the committee that can come to a bipartisan agreement.
So who did the Republicans name to the committee (h/t Think Progress)?
- Rep. Jeb Hensarling (TX) – He believes that the best way to eliminate corporate tax dodges is to lower the tax rate, rather than eliminate the loopholes. He also believes that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are Ponzi schemes to defraud the American people. He has signed Grover Norquist’s pledge to not raise any taxes under any circumstances.
- Rep. Dave Camp (MI) – Main guy in the House for tax legislation. Well, as long as that means writing tax cuts. Has actually said he’d rather see a bigger deficit than lose the Bush-era tax cuts. He’s already said that he considers tax increases off the table. He has signed Grover Norquist’s pledge to not raise any taxes under any circumstances.
- Rep Fred Upton (MI) – Perhaps the least stringent on taxes of the bunch, Upton has said that he hasn’t ruled out tax “reform“, but that tax increases are “just not going to be part of the equation.” He was a supported of Cut Cap and Balance and the Balanced Budget Amendment. He has signed Grover Norquist’s pledge to not raise any taxes under any circumstances.
- Sen. John Kyl (AZ) – A hard liner against taxes. Walked out of debt ceiling negotiations because of proposed tax increases to the wealthy and defends tax subsidies for oil companies. But, he is a staunch defender of military funding, always looking to get more. This may be one place where the bargaining may gain a foothold. He has signed Grover Norquist’s pledge to not raise any taxes under any circumstances.
- Sen. Pat Toomey (PA) – Does not believe that extending tax cuts and giving corporations tax breaks impacts revenue. Also may be willing to hold the line on taxes more firmly than Kyl, as he believes there is much waste in all government, including the military. He supports cuts to military spending. He has signed Grover Norquist’s pledge to not raise any taxes under any circumstances.
- Sen. Rob Portman (OH) - Believes that “spending, not tax cuts, causes future deficits,” He is another advocate of extending the Bush tax cuts permanently while believing it is possible to balance the budget in 10 years without a single tax increase. He would support defense cuts, which, like Toomey, could actually give him more room to hold the line. He has signed Grover Norquist’s pledge to not raise any taxes under any circumstances.
These six have a lot in common, but one glaring commonality is the last line in each description. They have all signed Norquist’s pledge to hold the line on taxes. They will be pressured – mightily – to not accept any increases in revenue if they look like taxes. But note that the other definition of revenue increase is tax reform. They have staunch opponents to that as well in the form of Hensarling, Camp, Kyl and Toomey. So unless Dems are united and can get one of the other two Republicans to agree to revenue increases, nothing including revenues will come out of the committee.
Let’s keep in mind that one of the reasons given by S&P for the downgrade is that they have little faith that this committee, this Congress, will do anything to fix the debt problem. They are convinced that Republicans will do whatever they can to keep the Bush-era tax cuts. The end of those cuts is what the current deficit estimates are based on. Without the expiration of those cuts, the current deficit numbers will balloon, which is what S&P s expecting.
So, it comes down to whether those cuts will be extended, and if Democrats can hold the line. If Democrats simply choose not to extend the cuts, the Republicans will face a very difficult situation, especially Kyl and Toomey. They support more money for defense, but if a deal isn’t reached, cuts to defense (on top of what has already been agreed to) will come automatically. There are Republicans on this committee who are perfectly happy with defense cuts but won’t allow revenue increases.
The question becomes: Where will the Republicans on the committee fall? If they protect defense, they’ll likely have to budge on revenues. That has little chance of passing in the House on an up and down vote. Since there are no amendments allowed to anything the committee recommends, that’s all that can happen. If they hold the line on revenues, and no deal is cut (assuming Dems hold the line that revenues must be included), then no deal will go to Congress, and the automatic triggers will lop huge chunks off the defense budget. Given that the ratings agencies already have no confidence that Republicans can come to a proper agreement, the chances of a deal coming out of this committee in the next 3 1/2 months are slim.
By selecting the individuals above for this committee, the Republicans have sent a clear message – this ain’t going anywhere. So be prepared for the impasse, and for the cuts to come. Meanwhile, Democrats can take advantage of this corner the Republicans have painted themselves into – by simply standing firm on revenues.