The so-called debt super committee already faced a superhuman-sized task. The panel, officially the "Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction," was created by the legislation which raised the debt ceiling this summer, and must find $1.5 trillion in debt reduction while also resolving whether or not to include revenue raisers in the equation. But now President Obama is asking the group to consider up to $3 trillion more in deficit cuts, while also demanding that it raise taxes on the wealthy members. Obama appears to have finally found his voice in terms of dealing forcefully with the Republicans, but in doing so he may hurt hopes that the "super committee" will fulfill its mission.
The president's jobs and deficit plans have already left GOP members of the committee angry, and Republican staffers grumbling that they might blunt the committee's momentum. "The president is again undermining the work of the Joint Select Committee," Texas Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling, co-chairman of the committee, said in a statement after Obama announced his deficit plan on Monday. "I sincerely hope he doesn't succeed." Democratic members, cautious that the issue may get too politicized, praised the plan but stop fully short of supporting it. Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the Democratic co-chairwoman of the committee, praised it for being a "serious approach."
The president's plan to raise revenues through increased taxes on high-income earners--the so-called Buffett Rule, based on the anecdote that billionaire investor Warren Buffett pays less in taxes than his secretary—isn't likely to find much support among Republicans on Capital Hill, with many suspecting that it is a campaign ploy, and not a serious proposal. Furthermore, his promise to veto any legislation that cuts Medicare without raising taxes on the wealthy could throw a monkey wrench into the committee's proceedings. Even if some of the Republican super committee members were willing to compromise on that point, a presidential threat may make compromise more difficult. No one likes to feel like the one who gave in in a standoff—just ask Democrats after the July debt ceiling hike. [Vote: Do the Rich Pay Enough in Taxes?]
The situation has echoes of this summer's standoff, but with the roles reversed and with the stakes a bit lower. Since Congress has returned, one is more likely to hear a Republican talking about compromise and common ground, and a Democrat issuing ultimatums. It's possible that Republicans have decided that they've taken a beating with their public image over the showdown, and that a more conciliatory posture, at least for now, would be beneficial. But did the Democratic Party finally decide they have to be more aggressive to deal with the GOP? More likely, the White House feels that the current equation calls for more confrontation on their part—and that the GOP is now the one with more to lose.