President Obama and Speaker Boehner have demonstrated they are ready to embrace such a compromise, and the latest Democratic and Republican proposals leaked from the supercommittee are hopeful signs that others may join them. If it happens, my guess is that it would unfold something like this:
The final deal will be struck among three Democrats (Sens. Kerry and Baucus and Rep. Van Hollen) and four Republicans (Sens. Toomey and Portman, Reps. Camp and Upton) — the bare majority necessary to trigger an up or down vote on the plan in both the House and Senate.
The deal will involve between $650 billion and $750 billion in additional revenue over the next 10 years as part of a sweeping reform of the tax code that will get the top rates for individuals and corporations below 30 percent. There will be about $1.5 trillion in spending cuts, at least half from entitlement programs, plus savings from foregone interest payments. To provide an immediate boost to the economy, an earmark-free $100 billion public works bill will be tacked on for good measure. Total debt reduction: about $2.5 trillion.
First stop will be the Senate, where a bipartisan group of 45 has committed itself to voting for such a package, where the bill will be managed not by Majority Leader Reid but by No. 2 Democrat Durban. Schumer Democrats and DeMint Republicans will rail against it. In the end, both Reid and Republican Leader McConnell will seize the historical moment and vote aye.
In the House, Boehner will break from his own caucus and, with a hundred other Republicans, vote for the plan, along with an even greater number of Democrats corralled by Democratic Whip Hoyer. Republican leader Cantor will lead the tea party fight against it. Under pressure from her president, Democratic leader Pelosi will defect from liberal colleagues and vote aye.
This would be the American answer to the “unity governments” now taking power in Italy and Greece, in their cases too late to avoid years of painful austerity and restructuring. Whether it can happen here depends on the willingness of those three Democrats and four Republicans to buck their party caucuses, ignore the special interests and put their own political futures on the line, jumping together into the cold waters of bipartisan compromise.
Those who argue that it will require the 2012 elections to break the political stalemate are just kidding themselves. Voters are neither equipped nor inclined to create grand bargains. Those require leadership. If the budget deficit is not tamed now, the chances are it won’t be until the economy is in a steep decline and the financial barbarians are at the gate. And at that point we’ll all be looking back and wondering what could they possibly have been thinking in the fall of 2011?