The skeptics have been proven right. The supercommittee failed in its attempt to agree on a package of $1.2 trillion of deficit reduction over the next 10 years. But it was not for a lack of trying.
Most members worked hard to find common ground. They looked at many proposals from past commissions, ideas from other committees of Congress as well as their own plans. In the end, the committee was done in by a lack of leadership in high places and competing visions of America’s future.
Let’s first note the total lack of leadership by the president of the United States. Big initiatives like deficit reduction cannot happen without the president’s active involvement and President Barack Obama’s administration never participated in any serious way in the committee’s work.
On the few occasions he spoke about the committee in public, it was almost always in a partisan context, threatening to veto any agreement that didn’t contain job-killing tax increases or one that did include meaningful entitlement reform. Yet cynically, he talked openly about a large deal of $3 trillion or $4 trillion, even as he opposed the elements that might have made such an agreement possible.
The president continues to operate almost exclusively on political autopilot. He has convinced himself that he has no responsibilities for the next year outside of getting re-elected. He thinks the failure of the committee will help him to rachet up his campaign against House Republicans.
He may be disappointed to discover that he cannot escape blame for the collapse of the talks.
The same day the committee ended deliberations, there was the president again announcing that he would veto any attempt to undo the automatic sequester. So while he talked about the pain of a sequester, he did nothing to prevent it and now brags that he will veto measures to undo it.
He might want to listen to his own secretary of defense who predicts disaster for our national security if the full defense cuts are implemented. But making decisions on national security would inconvenience Obama’s strategy of politicizing everything until his re-election.
A bigger issue, however, was the gap between two competing visions for America, two visions that are becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile.
The Obama/liberal activist vision holds that absent action by the federal government, private corporations run by millionaires and billionaires disproportionately benefit from private-sector capitalism. As such, the traditional American economic system tilts against most Americans.
They also believe government has an affirmative duty to act to redistribute income and exercise more oversight and control of the private sector to make results “more fair” for everyone. Tax increases on the rich are absolutely essential to a more just society. They won’t say it, but liberals believe that economic growth is not as important as a more equitable distribution of income and resources.
Republican conservatives believe that free markets, properly supervised by government, create more jobs and economic growth and that providing maximum opportunity for individuals to pursue their own self-interest produces greater efficiencies and more productive economic investments. While successful individuals can become quite wealthy, a free-market system not only produces more job growth and income for individuals but also greater revenue for government at all levels.
Conservatives further believe that a larger economic pie more than compensates for the unequal slices. Such a system is also far more compatible with the American constitutional vision of limited government and maximum personal freedom.
The Republican vision also holds that the liberal demand for higher tax rates on marginal income, while satisfying redistributionist impulses, would inevitably depress economic activity and yield less, not more, tax revenue making the deficit problem more, not less, intractable. This is not ideology talking, but rather hardheaded analysis based on experience with marginal rate increases of the past.
In the absence of a supercommittee report, current law provides for automatic reductions in specified government programs to yield $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years. The reductions do not begin until Jan. 2013 and given the huge spending increases of the last four years, the Republic should be able to deal with a couple of years of automatic cuts.
Winston Churchill once noted that democracies eventually do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else. The best option for real deficit reduction is for a new Republican House and Senate elected one year from now to move aggressively to take the steps necessary to finally bring fiscal discipline to the federal government.
Frank Donatelli is Chairman of GOPAC, the center for educating and electing a new generation of Republican leaders.
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