When I was in college, there was a saying everyone on my football team knew because our fullback repeated it any chance he got: "You can wish in one hand and [crap] in the other. See which hand fills up first." Democrats and progressives would be wise to heed the wisdom in that somewhat off-color saying when it comes to the super committee. We've been so busy wishing this debt deal wasn't so bad and hoping taxes will be included in a final package that we haven't noticed that we're holding a load of crap that is getting worse by the day.
Ever since the debt deal was struck, everyone has been focused on the super committee and what it will do. Lobbyists are swarming the Hill trying to talk to super committee members, and the DC chattering class is chattering away about the latest super committee leak or roadblock. Everyone is so caught up with what the super committee will do that I have heard almost no one ask whether we should want it to do anything.
So allow me to be that boy watching the parade go by who says, "Ummm... has anyone noticed that the emperor is naked?" Or in this case, "We should want the super committee to fail... and be positioning ourselves now for the political fallout of that failure."
I can hear your shrieks now:
"Eric, how can you possibly say that? Don't you realize that if the super committee does nothing, we will face the dreaded 'Trigger Cuts?!' The Triggers would decimate domestic spending, especially for the poor and vulnerable, gut job programs in the midst of a recession, and make massive cuts to defense and homeland security. They were created to ensure they'd never be used."
You're right. Triggers would be catastrophic. But I'm not arguing for triggers. I'm arguing against the super committee, because triggers will be better than anything the super committee can come up with that will pass the House.
I challenge anyone: present a viable scenario for a super committee compromise that can pass the Tea Party-controlled House and is not worse than the triggers. You can't do it.
Keep in mind that because of the debt deal, Republicans in the House have already secured $1 trillion in government cuts with another $1.2 trillion guaranteed and no tax increases. That is what they get if they refuse to compromise with Obama and Senate Democrats on a super committee deal -- $2.2 trillion in spending cuts and no tax increases. Sounds like a campaign promise, huh?
Add to that the fact that all six of the GOP members of the super committee have taken the "no tax increase" pledge; the Tea Party supports Defense cuts; it's a presidential election year -- in the middle of Republican primary season; and we're talking about a House chamber where about half of Republicans wanted the U.S. to default! Why would Republicans possibly give Obama a "victory" and accept tax hikes and less damaging cuts to government programs?
The only deal that would be worth it for them is one with larger total cuts to entitlements and spending (much more heavily weighted against social programs than in the triggers, which are split evenly between domestic and defense). In exchange for that, they might give up the most egregious tax loopholes they've never cared about anyway (thereby removing our ability to attack them for defending those loopholes in '12). They also might allow for a regressive simplification of the tax code that dramatically reduces taxes on the top bracket while removing many of the rebates middle class and others use. In short, the only possible deal is one that is a lot crappier than triggers.
What we need to be doing is making fewer statements about how the super committee can't fail and instead, start preparing and maneuvering for the fight that is to come when it does. We should begin blaming the GOP now for wanting to block super committee action so they can protect tax cuts for their millionaire and corporate donors and force through these disastrous trigger cuts. We need to start making it clear that Tea Party Republicans are responsible for the economic Armageddon that will come when these trigger cuts kick in. And let's not forget they are responsible for the almost trillion dollars in cuts that will be required of our defense budget too. They held our country hostage to the threat of default to force Democrats to cave to their demands, and Republicans provided the votes to pass this lousy deficit bill...and now are negotiating in bad faith to ensure the unthinkable triggers will be the best Americans can hope for.
In chess, a mistake many novices make is trying to delay the inevitable loss of a key piece that has fallen into a trap rather than recognizing that piece is lost and looking for ways to salvage something from the loss. Refusing to face the inevitable failure of the super committee will either leave us unprepared when it happens or force us into accepting a worse position.
We need to face facts. Wishing things were different or blaming Democratic leaders for the mess we're in won't help our country or do us any political good. But starting to blame Republicans now and positioning ourselves to make the best of bad options will.