The so-called super committee set up by Congress to address the nation's fiscal imbalance hasn't met yet, and its final three members were just named Thursday. But that hasn't stopped the unhelpful, inside-the-Beltway speculation that it's doomed for gridlock. The 12 members of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction need to set aside partisan polemics to do the work Americans should be able to expect of their elected officials. Bipartisan agreement on attacking America's fiscal woes is not unprecedented — even in these times.
Just eight months ago, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, co-chaired by former Republican Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, showed that it could be done. The plan was not perfect and ultimately fell short of the 14 votes needed to send it directly to Congress. But it still garnered 11 votes, a solid majority that confirmed that fiscal security for America must include both spending cuts and raising tax revenue. The congressional committee, which will require just a simple majority to forward proposals to Congress, needs to embrace the same broad philosophy to achieve success.
The Simpson-Bowles plan delayed deep spending cuts until 2012 to avoid jeopardizing the fragile economic recovery. But it also suffered no illusions about the serious work required to cut the deficit in half by 2015. The plan would have whacked every kind of government program, from the military to entitlements like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. It also proposed dramatic tax reform, including doing away with exemptions such as those allowed on second homes.
The plan had shortcomings as well. It was pinched on tax reform, not willing to contemplate, for example, that an industry that has done so well in the past 10 years — financial services — might rightly need to pay a share of taxes through financial transaction fees.
Tea party adherents appear unwilling to tolerate even the mildest suggestion of tax reform, much less revenue enhancement. And they're counting on their influence in the Republican Party to keep the six Republicans on the super committee beholden to the no-new-taxes pledge disseminated by uberlobbyist Grover Norquist. But no member of Congress worthy of support from his or her constituents should be beholden to a pledge that was signed, in some cases, before an escalating deficit caused in part by a pair of foreign wars.
Rhetoric and platitudes have not solved this problem. Only tough, bipartisan compromise will. The dozen super committee members need to put country before partisanship.