Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011 | 12:21 p.m.
With less than a week to go until the bipartisan, 12-member “super committee” must submit its official recommendations for how to slash the national debt by at least $1.2 trillion, rumors of counterproposals are flying, and Republicans and Democrats seem in utter disarray.
Will they meet their mark? Will they fail, setting up the country for an across-the-board budget cut? Was this whole super committee process even worth it?
It depends on whom you ask on what day. Unless you’re talking to the super committee’s inventor, Sen. Harry Reid.
“I have no regrets whatsoever about the suggestion that I made for a super committee,” Reid told reporters Tuesday.
“Of course none of this was my idea,” he said, referencing the discord that seems to have engulfed the proceedings. “I was hoping that there would be a lot of hand holding and hugs and pats on the back and we’d be headed off to Thanksgiving. But at this stage, we’ve seen a few arm locks and a few – what do you call it when you put someone’s, you lock somebody around the neck?...Headlock, that’s what it is.”
(Reid's a boxer, not a wrestler.)
In the last week, the Republican members of the committee came forward with an offer: $1.4 trillion that includes $300 billion in new revenue – i.e. more taxes – though that extra revenue comes not by raising taxes, but by pursuing the Republicans’ favored strategy of lowering tax rates and “broadening the base” of taxes collected.
Under the plan, the tax rate for the top income bracket would drop from 35 percent to 28 percent, and those below would also fall proportionally. The plan also limits taxpayers’ ability to take itemized deductions for things like mortgages and state and local taxes – breaks that are popular in Nevada.
House Speaker John Boehner called it a “fair offer” on Tuesday.
“Reforming the code is a step in the right direction,” Boehner said. “The details of how we get there, frankly, are yet to be worked out.”
But the idea that the super committee could in less than a week come up with a sweeping overhaul of the federal tax code stretches even the most lithe of imaginations.
As far as Reid’s concerned, there is no Republican offer on the table.
“So far, I’ve not seen an indication that the Republicans are willing to agree to this balanced approach,” he told reporters. “Democrats are not going to take an unfair, unrealistic load, directed toward domestic discretionary spending…and take it away from the military.”
If Congress doesn’t act, automatic cuts will follow: $500 billion on domestic programs, $500 billion on military and homeland security programs — and those numbers have top military officials very nervous.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wrote in a letter to Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham that the “sequestration” cuts – cuts that kick in if the super committee does nothing – would leave the country with “the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history.”
Reid designed those sequestration measures, and said Tuesday he would not vote to remove them, even if it means crippling cuts.
Behind the scenes it doesn’t appear anyone is prepared to let doomsday happen.
On Tuesday Reid met with Boehner – both of whom sold the idea of this super committee - and though Reid described the meeting to reporters as “non-substantive,” he did indicate that they talked about – and both have their staffs working on – ways to buttress the super committee process.
“I have my people who are working on trying to come up with something and so does he,” Reid said.
Meanwhile, the super committee members don’t appear ready to relinquish their grip on the negotiating process.
Republican super committee members have suggested the process will not go anywhere unless Democrats bend on Medicare and Social Security. But their leaders are also saying that failure is “absolutely not an option.”
Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing for more wiggle room on more revenue.
Rep. Xavier Becerra, one of the House Democratic members of the committee, told reporters Tuesday that the next few days would be a “magic week,” according to a CNN report.
“Congress and government generally don’t do things until the last minute,” Reid remarked Tuesday, adding: “The last minute is fast approaching.”
But even if the last minute comes and goes, Reid says he not only has no regrets, he’d think about using a super committee again in the future.
“Yeah,” he said at the suggestion. “I would, yes.”