TIMOTHY NOAH NOVEMBER 16, 2011
Okay, now the Washington Post is framing imminent super committee failure as a failure of leadership--not by the super committee itself, mind you, but by the president and the congressional leaders. On Nov. 15, eight days before the anticipated sequestration apocalypse, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell "scurried home for the night" at 7 p.m. Like cockroaches! "Boehner," the Post's Paul Kane adds scornfully, "had left the building earlier in the evening."
And the commander-in-chief? "Obama was literally halfway around the world, in Australia." How can the president be thinking about something as frivolous as foreign policy at a time like this? If the super committee fails to deliver by Thanksgiving eve, "Tuesday could be remembered as the day that Washington's leaders washed their hands of the group."
Oh, for Christ's sake. I expect this sort of knicker-twisting from Third Way (a nonprofit that represents "the forgotten middle"), but a major metropolitan daily ought to keep its head. These leaders aren't getting involved in the super committee's deliberations because they don't especially matter. They certainly don't warrant missing dinner eight days before the deadlock becomes official. The Post compares Obama's detachment unfavorably with his going on TV on July 25 to say "This is no way to run the greatest country on Earth." But that was a genuine emergency! The Republicans were about to force the U.S. government into default! This is not an emergency. If the super committee fails then automatic cuts will occur ... in 2013, which in political terms is a lifetime away.
I may be doing Third Way a disservice. Yes, it's very upset about the prospect that the super committee may produce nothing. Its president, Jon Cowan, is urging super committee members "to resist the siren song of advocacy groups from both sides of the spectrum who argue that failure is acceptable." But at least Third Way recognizes that if sequestration gets triggered Congress will spend the next year "attempting to write itself a get of jail free card." I would add only that this attempt is guaranteed to succeed. Third Way finds such maneuverings an "unseemly spectacle." I think they're just good sense. Something else I like about the Third Way letter is that it recognizes, as the Post does not, the utter phoniness of the Republican "tax increase." It "tortures CBO scoring rules to achieve a $300 billion revenue hike while permanently extending the Bush tax cuts. That proposal is not a revenue raiser, it's a card trick." I couldn't have said it better myself.
Third Way, in obligatory plague-on-both-your-houses fashion, says the Democrats are equally at fault for wanting to count among their spending cuts savings from withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm not sure I agree. Withdrawing troops from Iraq isn't occurring automatically; it's something the president consciously decided to do (and is taking some political heat for), in part because our Iraq occupation has been very expensive. Withdrawing troops from Afghanistan will require even greater deliberation, and may not happen on schedule. But even if we were to accept Third Way's premise that war savings are an illegitimate consideration, they amount to about $1 trillion, as against the $2 trillion to $3 trillion in lost revenue that would result from the Republicans' tax "increase." That means the super committee Republicans would be two to three times more irresponsible than the super committee Democrats. Plus, the super committee Republicans are apparently just as eager as their Democratic counterparts to include war savings in their calculations. So why assign it to the Democratic side of the ledger at all?