The whole concept of a congressional supercommittee empowered to create a budget solution that the rest of the Congress wasn’t able to agree on in the first place may always have been a bad idea. And given the inability of the bipartisan conclave to come up with any answers as time runs out on the mandate may have only confirmed that the members who joined it were sent on a fool’s errand. But one of the most stalwart conservatives in Congress may have offered Democrats a way out of the standoff.
Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey isn’t just a conservative Republican. As a former president of the free market/anti-tax group Club for Growth, he is more of an ideologue than the vast majority of his colleagues. But by putting forward a deficit fix that has elements of the “grand bargain” that some urged Congress to adopt earlier in the year, he has, to the surprise of many, given the supercommittee a path to the sort of solution both sides have said they would embrace. The question is, are Democrats so committed to the idea of running in 2012 on a platform blaming the GOP for everything that they will pass up this opportunity?
Toomey has offered the Democrats something a hard-liner on taxes was supposedly incapable of doing: a plan that calls for $250 billion-$300 billion in new revenues to be acquired by reducing tax deductions for those with higher incomes. That’s quite a leap for a man like Toomey who is predisposed to oppose all tax hikes. In exchange, he wants the extension of the Bush tax cuts that are vital if the economy is going to have any chance of recovery. Even more important, it would alter the tax code so as to reduce the top rates — which is vital to the country’s hopes for economic recovery.
Toomey’s gesture is problematic for many Republicans who not only oppose revenue enhancements in principle but worry about the unintended consequences of reduced deductions. But the idea that someone like Toomey would try to bridge the divide between the two sides debunks the Democratic charge that Republicans are incapable of compromise on taxes. It is also enough to make some of the liberals on the supercommittee, like Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. James Clyburn seriously consider whether a path to an answer has been found.
Toomey’s position is not only fair; it puts the Democrats on the spot. If, as some liberals are urging, the Pennsylvanian’s proposal is rejected out of hand, then it makes it clear they never had any interest in actually meeting their opponents anywhere close to halfway.
The budget mess hasn’t cast an attractive light on Congress. But by making a genuine stab at a compromise, the leading supercommittee conservative has made a solution possible. The problem lies in the fact that Democrats have deluded themselves into believing they can win in 2012 by demagoguery and class warfare. If they think this is to their advantage, that makes a supercommittee failure the best possible option for Democrats.
It may be that the committee has always been doomed to failure. But if it does fail, it will not be because the Republicans never put forward a viable alternative.