The co-chair of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), blows the whistle on the Democrats in the supercommittee. He recounts the bargaining, or lack thereof, by the six Democrats on the committee. In response to the Republicans’ proposal to enact the Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) Medicare reform plan, Democrats offered nothing:
Democrats rejected this approach but assured us on numerous occasions they would offer a “structural” or “architectural” Medicare reform plan of their own. While I do not question their good faith effort to do so, they never did.
Republicans on the committee also offered to negotiate a plan based on the bipartisan “Protect Medicare Act” authored by Alice Rivlin, one of President Bill Clinton’s budget directors, and Pete Domenici, a former Republican senator from New Mexico. Rivlin-Domenici offered . . . a list of Medicare-guaranteed coverage options, similar to the House budget’s approach—except that Rivlin-Domenici would continue to include a traditional Medicare fee-for-service plan among the options.
This approach was also rejected by committee Democrats.
This entirely believable since neither the Senate Democrats or the White House has put its own Medicare reform plan on the table. For over a year the Republicans have pleaded for the Democrats to engage on this issue; the White House and Senate Democrats have refused.
As for supposed “intransigence” on the Republican side, the facts suggest otherwise. Hensarling again: “Republicans were willing to agree to additional tax revenue, but only in the context of fundamental pro-growth tax reform that would broaden the base, lower rates, and maintain current levels of progressivity. This is the approach to tax reform used by recent bipartisan deficit reduction efforts such as the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission and the Rivlin-Domenici plan. The Democrats said no. They were unwilling to agree to anything less than $1 trillion in tax hikes—and unwilling to offer any structural reforms to put our health-care entitlements on a permanently sustainable basis.”
But really, the Democrats had no other choice. They had zero guarantee that they wouldn’t be undercut by the White House. Political cowardice is contagious. The argument for returning Democrats to the White House and to the majority in the Senate is undermined by the abject lack of responsibility both have demonstrated since President Obama took office.
And Hensarling is right that Obama actually increased the burden on the supercommittee: “Since the committee was formed, he has demanded more stimulus spending and issued a veto threat against any proposed committee solution to the spending problem that was not coupled with a massive tax increase.”
It’s a convenient but inaccurate narrative to say that Republicans refused to offer anything on revenues. It’s emotionally satisfying for Democrats but false to say they tried to make a deal on entitlements. Hensarling has blown the Democrats’ cover.
Democrats are at a disadvantage if they are required to answer two specific questions: 1) Where is the Democratic response to the plan by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) (which included revenue increases), and 2) Where is the Democratic response to Ryan’s Medicare reform plan? The answer to both is “there wasn’t one.” So who, exactly, was operating in bad faith and being intransigent?