11/08/2011 10:11 am ET Updated Jan 08, 2012

A Way-Out for the Super Committee... and the Country

The Super Committee is unlikely to produce a plan that is good policy, or that anyone really likes. Their recommendations, if passed, will begin to take effect in 2013.

Indeed, one could reasonably argue that the outcome ought not be left to this committee or this Congress, but should be voted upon by the American people.

We have no mechanism in our Constitution for a referendum -- but, we do have a way of turning the 2012 election into such a referendum.

Why not pass a single bill with two alternative plans, and take those plans to the country for the 2012 election? Each party's plan will meet the criterion of cutting the deficit by $1.2T over 10 years -- and, each party is welcome to go beyond that if it wishes.

The bill will include a provision* that says that, by January 25, 2013, Congress (the new Congress) will vote on each plan separately in an up-or-down vote. If no bill is passed, the same default provisions as exist in the current legislation will bite.

Each plan will be submitted to the Congressional Budget Office for analysis, and the CBO reports would be due before June, 2012, enough time for the parties and their candidates to tout or attack the plans.

Although the initial temptation for each side would be to do "its thing," sober second thoughts (if there are any remaining in DC) might temper those impulses. The specter of the CBO reports would be one force-field imposing some sanity on the plans.

Recognizing that 72% of the American people believe the top 1% should be taxed more heavily and approve the financial activities tax ("FAT") on Wall Street, the Democrats may include those revenue-raisers in their plan.

Republicans will likely include the Ryan budget as the key element of their plan. If they do not, it would be very telling.

This proposal is very much like "baseball arbitration." Each side submits its bid. The judge (in this case, the American people) chooses the bid closest to what the judge would have decided. Consider how this works: each side wants the most it can get, but it must consider that the other side may decide to relinquish some of what it wants to get closer to what it estimates the American people want.

Let us see which party's plan the country prefers.

*Legally, one Congress cannot bind the next. If the election is a clear referendum, however, the new Congress fails to adhere to the outcome at its peril.