So there is, as you might expect, quite a bit of tea-leaf reading happening around town. Here’s what the smartest of the supercommittee-ologists are watching:
The weakness of the “trigger”: The reason the panel was to succeed where other bipartisan negotiations have failed was the “trigger.” The inability of the two sides to reach a deal would trigger $1 trillion in automatic cuts over the next 10 years. Half of that would come from domestic spending, although Social Security, Medicaid and a few other programs for low-income Americans would be protected. The other half would come from the Pentagon.
But increasingly, no one fears the trigger. If it is activated, Republicans have spoken openly about undoing the defense cuts — and the White House and congressional Democrats would happily sign on. But the White House won’t allow the defense cuts to be lifted if the other side of the trigger — domestic cuts — isn’t also defused. So it’s simple to imagine the coalition that will disarm the trigger.
Democratic divisions: Last week it was reported that the Democrats on the committee had offered a new proposal. As it turned out, some of the Senate Democrats had offered one. Asked about the plan on “Fox News Sunday,” Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) was clearly annoyed. “There are six Democrats on this committee,” he said. “And though I have a great deal of admiration and respect for all of them, the fact of the matter is, Democrats have not coalesced around a plan.” Right now, the smart money is on the final vote having either four Democrats — Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Max Baucus (Mont.) and John F. Kerry (Mass.), plus Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) — or none. The six Republicans, meanwhile, are expected to vote as a bloc.
Sen. John F. Kerry: But if any Democrat is going to break from his colleagues, it’s Kerry. When Kerry was appointed to the 12-member supercommittee, the prevailing theory was that he was there to hold the line for liberals. As it turns out, he’s the Democrat who seems most interested in cutting a deal — and who is causing liberals the most heartburn.
The George W. Bush tax cuts: The Republicans’ initial line in the sand was no new net revenue. That is to say, they were willing to discuss tax reform, but only if it didn’t increase the total revenue flowing into the federal government. That was a non-starter for the committee’s Democrats. Last week, the Republicans, led by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.), offered a proposal that included about $300 billion in new revenue but paired it with the full extension of the Bush tax cuts. In other words, if Democrats were willing to trade $300 billion in new taxes for $3.7 trillion in tax cuts, Republicans would take the deal. Democrats haven’t bit. Yet.