My colleague Dana Milbank, writing in the wake of the supercommittee, contends that Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) was “the committee member who had done more than any other to assure its failure.” This surprised me since I had previously heard that Republicans were unified behind Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R-Pa.) compromise plan. When I spoke to Kyl’s office, spokesman Ryan Patmintra vehemently denied that his boss had worked to scuttle the deal.
I then checked with the two other Republican senators on the committee, and in the process I learned about a plan afoot to swap out the sequestration of defense funds.
I asked Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the former head of the Office of Management and Budget who is regarded as an effective deal-maker, about Kyl. He shot back: “Having been a key part in the negotiations with Vice President Biden this summer, Senator Kyl played a very constructive role, including building upon the Biden talks to identify billions of dollars of spending reforms on the mandatory and discretionary sides that had a degree of bipartisan support. These policies would have been at the core of any package had we come together.”
I then called Toomey, and he too was flabbergasted. “That is a ridiculous charge,” he said of the accusation that Kyl had done more to scuttle the deal than anyone. Toomey, whose plan proposed $250 billion in new tax revenues, was audibly annoyed, saying, “He was as constructive as he could have been from the beginning to the very end.” Not aware of Portman’s answer (nor even that I had contacted him), Toomey also cited Kyl’s participation at the Biden talks as a helpful part of the supercommittee’s work.
Breaking some news, Toomey also told me that there was a potential alternative to the sequestration of defense funds. He said he didn’t want to speak for too many of his colleagues, “but I can tell you my view. The cuts can be achieved but in a different way.” He said that although the talks failed, “along the way we discovered opportunities to achieve real savings.” He said these were noncontroversial cuts in both mandatory and discretionary spending. Would a bill be introduced to try to swap out the defense cuts that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta deemed to be harmful to our national security? He said, “We are very likely to see a proposal.” However, he said he did not know what form that would take.
Getting back to the supercommittee’s work itself, was Toomey surprised that his own proposal didn’t generate any movement by the Democrats? “I really was surprised,” he said. The Democrats insisted on a trillion dollars in tax increases and spending cuts to follow, he said. As for entitlement reform, he told me, “The fact is throughout the process we were continually promised but never received a plan on how [the Democrats] would reform entitlements.” He said the Republicans first proposed the premium support plan in Medicare authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) When that didn’t go over, the GOP picked up on a plan co-authored by Alice Rivlin. Toomey said, “Rivlin is a Democrat and a former OMB director. The plan preserves a fee-for-service option.” Again, nothing back from the Democrats.
Perhaps Democratic Sens. Patty Murray or John Kerry will explain why they never presented an entitlement reform plan or why they didn’t make any move in response to the Toomey offer. Better yet, the White House might share why, for three years, Obama hasn’t put up his own entitlement reform plan. But it doesn’t appear that Kyl was the bad guy here. In fact, as the only member of the committee leaving office, he had every reason to (and it seems he did) try to make a deal. There simply was no deal to be made with the Democrats and the absentee president.