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Outside Editorial: Super committee is failing miserably

Posted: November 18, 2011 - 1:04am

The following editorial appeared in the San Jose Mercury News:

As the Thanksgiving deadline approaches for the congressional super committee on deficit reduction to complete its work, the whole thing is starting to look like a big, fat turkey.

It’s difficult to gauge which is worse: the committee’s lack of progress toward a deal to cut the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion, or the total absence of sunshine on the proceedings. No wonder Congress’ approval rating has sunk to single digits, a new low.

The fact that the nation’s future is being negotiated in secret, during closed hearings, is an affront to Americans and should outrage Republicans and Democrats alike. Advocates of open government are demanding that any bill that goes before the House or Senate be posted online for all to see at least 72 hours in advance of any vote. Amen to that.

In retrospect, it was Pollyanna optimism to think a committee like this could bridge the huge gap between Democrats and Republicans on the deficit. We had hoped compromise would be spurred by the prospect of devastating cuts that automatically are triggered if the committee fails to reach agreement. Instead, the triggers mostly have inspired creative proposals from both sides of the aisle to avoid defense and domestic cuts without solving anything.

And don’t look for President Barack Obama to end the logjam. He left Saturday for a nine-day trip to Asia.

Strengthening the United States’ Pacific Rim ties is important, but leadership is needed at home. Obama should be all over the super committee, pummeling or cajoling them, whatever it takes to broker a deal that creates the maximum number of U.S. jobs. Failure to deal with the deficit will only spur further unrest in the financial markets, offsetting any positives the president’s trip to Asia might generate.

There was a spark of hope Sunday in the news that the super committee was looking for an escape hatch to effectively delay for a year figuring out how to raise any revenues to help deal with the deficit. But Republicans in Congress have been adamant for months that any deficit reduction had to be solely through budget cuts. If Democrats, who as usual already have compromised, offer more cuts, perhaps there is yet hope for a deal. But it is difficult to imagine Republicans agreeing to any kind of significant tax increases, either later this fall or next year, given that they have repeatedly pledged not to do so.

Nor will Republicans consider ending President George W. Bush’s tax cuts to the rich, which cost the U.S. Treasury about $75 billion every year. It’s no coincidence that the last year the federal government took in more money than it spent, 2001, was the year the Bush tax cuts went into effect.

The super committee must agree on a proposal by Nov. 21 for Congress to vote before Thanksgiving, as required by the summer budget deal. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have a lot riding on this, although you wouldn’t know it from Boehner’s rigid stance.

Miracles occasionally do happen.

But unless there is a major breakthrough this week, Americans will have few reasons to be thankful for the work of our nation’s leaders this holiday season.

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