The failed deficit-reduction supercommittee was a gimmick designed to help Congress force itself to do something it did not want to do. It was the parliamentary version of the chronic straggler who sets his watch 10 minutes ahead in an effort to improve his punctuality. If you have ever tried this, it doesn’t work. And were it possible to achieve virtue through self-deception, our politicians would all be philosopher kings.
This latest failure speaks to a profound truth about Congress and our president. And it’s not just that they cannot bring themselves to cut spending below current levels — that already goes without saying. Rather, Congress cannot even trim a pathetic 2.7 percent out of an ever-expanding 10-year budget projection that already balloons far into the future.
Even more pathetic are the politicians now clamoring for higher taxes. They implicitly argue that the republic cannot survive the next decade on a mere $42.7 trillion, as opposed to $43.9 trillion — or perhaps as much as $44.5 trillion if we really, really stick it to the top 1 percent. When you actually see those numbers in print, the fatuity of framing tax increases as some sort of national moral imperative becomes even more obvious.
This new failure makes one wonder about the possibilities of accomplishing anything significant in Washington, inside or outside of an election year. Don’t forget, the debate that ultimately culminated in the supercommittee deal began in January 2011, when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner predicted the end of the world unless the debt ceiling was raised by March at the latest.
Some people think that politics and policy are all about big ideas. The supercommittee should cure such thinking. The Washington Examiner recently hosted Leo Linbeck and David DeMarco of Americans for the Fair Tax, who came to promote and discuss one of the leading conservative ideas on tax reform — a broad-based consumption tax that ends our current tax code’s punishment of savings, hiring, exports, labor and productivity.
I think the fair tax is a great idea. It exempts the poor with its “prebate” feature, eliminates the government’s current practice of privileging certain investments and it would save taxpayers mounds of paperwork. And you know what? It won’t ever happen. Nor will the flat tax that others prefer, nor any other meaningful reform of the current tax code.
If the threat that government debt poses now is not enough to generate targeted budget cuts slightly greater than a rounding error, then how will Congress ever reform something like our tax code, which every lobbyist in Washington and a bipartisan coalition of members will scramble to defend?
When the supercommittee first convened, the cynics pointed out its great fundraising potential for the two parties. That potential has been more than fulfilled. The Sunlight Foundation reports that the 12 supercommittee members held or hosted 55 fundraisers for themselves, their PACs and other lawmakers during the committee’s short lifetime.
At the supercommittee’s opening session, Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, presented this statement: “We face a defining challenge: Will we embrace this opportunity to lead and put our economy back on track, or will we let the cynics and naysayers carry the day?”
Congratulations, congressman, on that speech. Also on the fundraiser you held the night before you gave it, and also on the seven others you squeezed in after being named to the committee. You’ve helped make cynics of us all.
Columnist David Freddoso is The Washington Examiner online opinion editor.