At this point, many in Washington are so spooked by the possibility of an actual default in the aftermath of a failure to raise the debt ceiling, they are ready for any compromise. That explains the enthusiasm with which many in the Senate greeted the revival of the previously moribund “Gang of Six” Senate plan for a resolution of the budget impasse. But the eagerness with which President Obama also endorsed the proposal should alert Senate Republicans to the fact that this deal represents a significant retreat from the compromises proposed by House Speaker John Boehner when he attempted to negotiate his own “grand solution” with Obama earlier this month.
While the gang’s plan does call for tax simplification that would conform to longstanding Republican ideas about reform, there are only half a trillion dollars in immediate cuts with promises of far more in the future. On the surface it may seem as if it is a fair compromise because it includes spending reductions as well as some tax increases. But the devil is in the details. It is difficult to see how it arrives at the total of $3.7 trillion cuts that are promised.
Though there is talk of some reform of the entitlements that are sinking the nation, the plan is vague about how that is accomplished. It rejects a balanced budget amendment that many in the GOP rightly think could act as a deterrent to efforts to evade fiscal discipline ,and it keeps the biggest new and costly entitlement — Obamacare — off the table. Since the tax increases are to be passed separately from the cuts and the rollbacks on entitlements, House Republicans who believe their mandate is to change a failed system rather than to enable it to continue can be forgiven for wondering if they are being played for suckers.
Only the most trusting of souls can believe the Democratic majority in the Senate and the White House can be relied upon to follow through with all of these promises once they have pocketed the debt ceiling increase. Indeed, if the gang’s plan is the basis for a debt ceiling deal, it is hard to believe Obama and the Democrats will not find a way to delay the cuts they don’t like so as to continue to engage in their cherished Mediscare demagoguery during the 2012 election.
While a way to raise the debt ceiling must be found, a vague deal that would essentially act as a roadblock to genuine reform of entitlements and spending while also raising taxes would have to be considered a defeat for Republicans who came to Washington this year determined to end the business as usual attitude of the Congress. Perhaps their hopes were always unrealistic, but the eagerness with which some Republican senators are seizing on this idea as a way out of a difficult problem says more about their distaste for standing up to the White House than it does about the virtues of the plan.