It’s hard to see how the Super Committee can possibly reach a consensus by this time next week after Republican co-chair Jeb Hensarling’s appearance on CNBC Tuesday night. The short version is that he left the ball in Democrats court, and hinted that if the committee fails, Congress will spend the next year or so trying to change the terms of an automatic penalty to make sure that hundreds of billions of cuts to defense programs never take effect.
Hensarling claimed that if the committee recommended even a dollar of new net tax revenue — the kind of revenue Dems are demanding — it would constitute a step in the wrong direction. He said a GOP plan put forward by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) — one which Republicans claim would raise revenues by nearly $300 billion over 10 years, but would also make the Bush tax cuts permanent — is as far as Republicans are willing to go on revenues. But that’s an offer Democrats flatly rejected as unserious. And unless one of the parties breaks cleanly with its publicly stated position, the committee will either fall well short of reducing the deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years as required by law, or will fail altogether.
“We have gone as far as we feel we can go,” Hensarling said. “We put $250 billion of what is known as static revenue on the table, but only if we can bring down rates [but] any penny of increased static revenue is a step in the wrong direction. We can only balance that with pro-growth reform and frankly the Democrats have never agreed to that…. if we can’t get any type of reforms in health care, which has helped drive the nation towards insolvency, then, no, there’s no reason to frankly put any static revenues on the table.”
When Hensarling says “static,” he means revenue that will actually, predictably come into the Treasury. Republicans claim in a Laffer-ite way that their preferred tax policy will create enough economic growth to raise revenues even if the math says it won’t. Democrats reject that kind of analysis.
In a moment of candor, Hensarling said Republicans would fight to make sure they never have to harm their own interests. If they refuse to raise taxes and the committee fails then they’ll also focus their efforts on changing the enforcement mechanism — put in place to force both parties to compromise — to make sure that the part they don’t like gets changed before it kicks in in January 2013.
“Frankly, half of [the automatic cuts] is aimed at national security,” Hensarling added. “Leon Panetta, our Secretary of Defense says that will hollow out our defense. So number one I would be committed to keeping the $1.2 [trillion in automatic cuts]. We’ve got 13 months to find a smarter way to do it.”
Instead of crying uncle, Republicans are threatening to walk away, and then to try to protect their interests from the across the board spending cuts that were meant to scare them out of walking away in the first place.
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.