Here's a brief guide to congressional debt politics in 2011: In the debt ceiling deal, $1 trillion in spending cuts (or caps on future spending, mostly) was made, while punting at least $1.2 trillion in additional savings to be determined by a supercommittee, later. The supercommitee, now, is considering this brave solution as its deadline nears: Making trillions in additional spending cuts, while punting decisions on additional tax revenue to be determined by congressional finance committees, later.
We're guessing the idea is just to keep punting until deep space aliens kill off our miserable civilization, a genocide that — let's be honest here — couldn't come soon enough. Here's the word from the Times regarding this latest "escape hatch" from the impossible decision of cutting some tax loopholes:
WASHINGTON - With a little over a week left to reach a deal, members of the Congressional deficit reduction panel are looking for an escape hatch that would let them strike an accord on revenue levels but delay until next year tough decisions about exactly how to raise taxes.
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.
The best part is that members of Congress are calling this a breakthrough.
How would it pan out?
- Congress, the most hated institution in the world, would be seen as punting again, due to the fact that it would be punting again. This would not improve Congress' image, among the public or holders and raters of the country's debt.
- Republican legislators, who are, how shall we say, reluctant to vote for anything that raises revenue — hence the current supercommittee gridlock that is forcing the need for another escape hatch — will still have to vote for a proposal that promises to raise a certain amount of revenue and then come around on whatever the tax-writing committees gin up next year.
- Next year is a presidential election year! Not exactly the best time to Make the Tough Choices.
- Heading into said election year, would President Obama really sign into law a proposal that (presumably) makes cuts to popular entitlement programs while merely instructing tax-writing committees to find new revenue to balance that out later? Call us cynical, but it's possible that the tax-writing committees would find a way to punt next year!
Another thing that Democrats should keep in mind: It appears that any revenue-raising deal that the supercommittee comes up with would be in exchange for making all of the Bush income tax cuts permanent. Allowing the Bush cuts to expire on the top two income tax brackets, as the Democrats' position has been for about 10 years now, would bring in about $800 billion over ten years. So if the supercommittee or one of its punted spawn sub-supercommittees ever does reach an agreement to raise revenue, and Democratic leaders start cheering madly, "WE GOT REVENUE, THE WORLD IS SAVED!", you'll want to measure whatever deal they strike against that $800 billion benchmark and the progressiveness with which it's distributed. An example: If the deal is to raise $400 billion in new revenue over 10 years by curtailing mostly lower- and middle-class tax credits/deductions/exemptions, then the deal sucks.
[Image of supercommittee members researching new punting options via AP]