As the details of the Gang of Six’s debt plan began to surface, opposition intensified. A spokesman for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told me, “As you know, there are a lot of questions still to be answered about this. To Senator Rubio, it’s not clear how the suggested tax changes would be implemented, what the baseline assumptions they’re using are, and ultimately what impact it will have on job creation. As he said earlier today, ‘If anything in that plan hurts the creation of jobs and economic growth, I can’t support it.’ ” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee released a blistering critique of the deal.
A House Republican aide I spoke with posed this question: “In interviews and in their press documents, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad continues to note that the Gang of Six plan actually cuts taxes, noting that the ‘tax cut’ amounts to $1.5 trillion. If you cut taxes by $1.5 trillion, how does this plan reduce the deficit by $3.7 trillion? Where is the $5.2 trillion spending cut? How egregious are the baseline games being played in the rollout of this still nonexistent plan?” He wisecracked, “Leading on reporters is not leadership.”
The most devastating analysis of the Gang of Six deal came from former associate director of OMB, James Capretta. He explained: “It’s a terrible, terrible plan. It will hand the president a huge strategic victory and deliver nothing that the GOP should be seeking in this fight. It’s far, far worse than anything we have seen thus far, and certainly much worse than the McConnell plan.”
So what is in it? Capretta revealed:
It’s essentially a call for a budget “reconciliation” bill, with no specifics yet available. Senate committees with jurisdiction over taxes and entitlements would be tasked with achieving targeted amounts of savings or tax increases. For instance, the Finance Committee would be charged with reporting out a tax-reform plan that increases taxes by about $2.3 trillion over a decade. That committee would also be charged with finding savings in Medicare and Medicaid, but there’s absolutely no indication of how the savings will be achieved.
Republicans would be foolish to think this process will produce anything worthwhile. The Democrats control the Senate, and all of the committees. They will write the tax and entitlement changes, and look for Republican votes. It’s a recipe for another round of useless mishmash posing as “entitlement reform.” Remember, Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus is an architect of Obamacare. If his committee were to produce any real health-care savings at all, it would be with the same kind of price-setting and central planning that was written into Obamacare. There’s zero chance this process will lead to any meaningful movement away from the Obamacare model.
And, meanwhile, critics of the defense cuts voiced outrage. Robert Kagan, a Post contributor and fellow with the Brooking Institution, e-mailed me his reaction: “[The proposed cuts are] utterly irresponsible and dangerous to national security. Also cowardly, since defense has no domestic constituency, while entitlements — the real source of our fiscal crisis — do.”
So why are there Senate Republicans in favor of this? My best guess is they don’t understand it or haven’t read what is on paper (which isn’t much). Those who leap before they look neglect their own stated principles and make a final deal that much harder to reach. For in its current form, would it get any Republican votes in the House? I doubt it.