Liberals and progressive groups are livid at a Sunday New York Times report, which reads as if Super Committee Democrats are about to capitulate to the GOP: spending cuts now in exchange for the promise of higher revenues later. But Democratic aides privy to the negotiations say the angry reaction misreads the Dems’ position. And indeed the most recent Democratic offer to Super Committee Republicans would have squared this issue by automatically nullifying entitlement cuts if future tax legislation didn’t raise revenues.
The Times story is based on a comment Republican co-chair Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) made on CNN’s Sunday show State of the Union.
Under this approach, the panel would decide on the amount of new revenue to be raised but would leave it to the tax-writing committees of Congress to fill in details next year, well beyond the Nov. 23 deadline for the panel itself to reach an agreement. That would put off painful political decisions but ensure that the debate over deficit reduction stretched into the election year.
“There could be a two-step process that would hopefully give us pro-growth tax reform,” Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, the top Republican on the panel.
Progressives took this to imply surrender.
“If you think that promise has any credibility whatsoever - if you have any doubts that the end result would be to gut Social Security and actually cut taxes for the wealthy - I have this Nigerian bank account that can be yours if you send me $100,000 in expenses,” wrote Paul Krugman.
The advocacy group MoveOn emailed members Monday, urging them to call Super Committee Dems and tell them any plan that doesn’t raise taxes on the rich right out the gate is unacceptable.
If you needed proof that Washington is still ignoring the 99%, just read this morning’s New York Times.
It reports that members of the congressional Super Committee—which is supposed to release its plan to reduce the deficit in just nine days—are looking for ways to agree to deep cuts to social programs now but defer any decisions about how to raise taxes until next year.
That’s a recipe for total disaster.
But as I noted last week, Democrats aren’t offering to simply take the GOP at their word. Their plan is to make any cuts to programs like Medicare and Social Security part of a trigger that would only be pulled if and when Congress passes hundreds of billions of dollars in new revenue.
Multiple Democratic aides confirm their strategy hasn’t changed: Dems will only support this sort of two-step tax reform process if there are serious revenue guarantees and the deal includes a trigger to make sure the revenue materializes.
If that sounds a little Rube Goldbergish to you, it is. But both parties have basically agreed that the Super Committee wouldn’t have enough time between its launch and its deadline to write a full overhaul of the tax code. So Dems are privately insisting that any future promised revenue come with more than a promise. If the GOP can’t deliver the votes for it, then the safety net cuts they want disappear. That’s not to predict that they’ll stick with this demand until the bitter end — for liberal groups, vigilance is key.
But the Hensarling comments don’t on their own indicate that Dems have once again preemptively ceded their leverage.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.