In his feisty speech on Monday, President Obama first decried Republicans’ habit of signing pledges, and then made a pledge of his own: “I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay their fair share.” And with that, the president all but killed Congress’ bipartisan deficit reduction Super Committee.
Why? Because the 12-person Super Committee, tasked with trimming $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit in the next 10 years, consists of six Republicans and six Democrats, and none of those Republicans is going to sign off on a bill that raises taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Although reforms to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are said to be on the table, new taxes are not. Not a chance. Know this: All six Republicans on the Super Committee signed anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist’s pledge to never raise taxes for any reason. Good luck getting that crew—Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Dave Camp (R-Mich.), and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), and Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio)—to sign off on higher taxes for rich people.
There was always a strong chance the Super Committee would fail to reach an agreement. This is, after all, Congress in 2011, when bipartisan agreement on major fiscal policy is about as likely as the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series. But Obama’s veto threat essentially extinguishes even the slightest glimmer of hope that those dozen lawmakers would reach an agreement that could pass both chambers and win Obama’s support.
So if the Super Committee is dead in the water, what happens? Automatic spending cuts, that’s what. The committee’s failure, as laid out in the debt-ceiling deal Obama signed in August, will lead to cuts in payments to Medicare providers, cuts to an array of domestic spending programs, and as much as a $500 billion reduction in the Pentagon’s budget. The Pentagon budget-slashing has already given hawkish Democrats and GOPers plenty of heartburn—but not nearly as much as Republicans would feel for supporting the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.
All of which is to say: RIP Super Committee. We hardly knew ye.