Could growing GOP optimism about 2012 make it less likely that the Congressional supercommittee reaches a “grand bargain” on reducing the deficit?

Politico reports this morning that Republicans are already telling their K Street allies that the Joint Select (Super) Committee isn’t at all likely to go big with a “Grand Bargain” that would exceed the committee’s minimum deficit-reduction instructions. In part, that’s because of what we’ve known all along: Republicans aren’t really very interested in deficit reduction, certainly not compared to their main policy goal of keeping taxes as low as possible, especially for rich people.

But it’s also because the structure of the trigger makes partisan optimism about 2012 the enemy of the committee. In short, the better Republicans think they’ll do in 2012, the less likely they are to make a serious effort to avoid pulling the “trigger” this fall.

Remember, the idea of the trigger was to design a process in which both Republicans and Democrats would prefer compromise to deadlock. Inaction would mean deep cuts in domestic spending (which would be unacceptable to Democrats) and defense cuts (unacceptable to Republicans), and so both sides would have heavy pressure to cut a deal that protected their core concerns.

However, because those cuts won’t be enacted until 2013, there’s a catch to all of that. It means that if the trigger kicks in, the resulting cuts can be undone by the next Congress. And if either party is convinced that it will win in 2012 and control all the branches of government, then it has an incentive to let the Joint Select Committee fail, wait out the clock, and then impose their own preferences after the election.

And if there’s one thing that’s changed since July, it’s GOP optimism about 2012. Right now they believe that they’re unbeatable. That’s particularly true of Tea Partiers and other core conservatives in the House — which means that they’re even less likely to go along with any supercommittee compromise. House GOPers who want to avoid being tagged RINOs (Republicans in name only) will also be less likely to support a compromise.

Bottom line: There’s very little incentive for conservatives who believe that their positions are popular and that 2012 will be a GOP landslide to agree to anything right now, especially a deal that doesn’t go into effect until 2013 anyway. The real question isn’t whether the Joint Select Committee will strike a very large Grand Bargain (no chance) or come up with any compromise at all (unlikely). It’s what will happen between the likely failure of the super-committee and what Congress will do to the resultant “triggered” cuts in 2013. It’s yet another way in which the stakes in the 2012 elections are enormously high.