No, Both Sides Aren't to Blame for the 'Super Committee' Failure

Blame the GOP.

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You don’t have to buy the trite, predictable cop-out storyline that the so-called super committee’s failure to reach a deficit-cutting agreement is equally attributable to intransigence on the part of both Republicans and Democrats. Thanks to the wonders of modern journalism and the Internet, you can  decide for yourself whether one side was willing to budge more than the other.

Spoiler alert: In keeping with recent political history, Democrats were much more willing to budge.

  [Check out political cartoons about the "Super Committee."]

The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein has a detailed run-down this morning of how the blame for intractability should be parceled out, using the proposal floated during the summer’s debt ceiling negotiations as a starting point. During the summer, Klein notes, Obama wanted $1.2 trillion in new taxes but the super committee Democrats’ offer was for less than $1 trillion in new taxes.

On the entitlement side, Boehner asked for $150 billion in Medicare cuts during the summer, while Democrats offered around $400 billion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts. “Frankly,” Klein writes, “it’s hard to find even one area in which supercommittee Republicans offered a substantially new compromise—or even matched what Boehner offered Obama. … [I]f the question is whether the Democrats or the Republicans moved further in the direction of a compromise, there’s no doubt that compared to the last set of negotiations, the Democrats moved right and the Republicans moved further right.”

[See editorial cartoons about the budget and deficit.]

What of the GOP’s much ballyhooed willingness to acknowledge that deficit reduction requires increased tax revenues? Keep in mind that they tied their $300 billion offer to permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts, which would add trillions of dollars to the deficit. This is like an overweight person saying they’re willing to ride a stationary bike for 20 minutes on the condition that they are allowed to eat all of their meals at McDonald’s.

Or as the Post’s Greg Sargent writes:

Let’s allow that the GOP offer was a concession, in the sense that the original Republican position was that any and all revenues of any kind would be an automatic nonstarter. And let’s compare it with the concessions Democrats proposed to make. Both of the Dem offers were roughly split evenly between tax increases and spending cuts. In other words, both Dem offers involved both sides making concessions of roughly the same size.

This is the primary difference in a nutshell: The Dem offer involved both sides making roughly equivalent concessions; the GOP offer didn’t. The main GOP concession — the additional revenues — would have come in exchange for Dems giving ground on two major fronts: On cuts to entitlements, and on making the Bush tax cuts permanent.

Are both sides equally to blame? Not hardly.

  • Vote now: Who is to blame for the super committee failure?
  • Read Peter Fenn on the super committee's failure reflecting a muppet Congress
  • Read the U.S. News debate on who, the U.S. or Europe, is handling their debt crisis better.