Gang Warfare Over Debt Ceiling

I’ve seen many political “gangs” come and go in my decades in Washington.  In recent years there has been the Gang of 14 (judicial nominations), the Gang of 12 (immigration reform) and the Gang of Ten (energy).  And now we have the much-hyped Gang of Six senators whose goal is to reach a compromise on public debt.
These gangs are always celebrated by the media for their “bipartisanship”—which means their proposals are automatically regarded as the sensible alternative to the extreme positions and untenable policy prescriptions of other (usually Republican) legislators.
And so it is with the Gang of Six.  As with the past gangs, the Gang of Six has introduced a proposal that is being cheered for its bipartisanship.  Unfortunately, the bipartisan label, to paraphrase George Carlin, simply means that some larger-than-usual deception is being carried out.
Republicans ran and won an election only nine months ago promising to reduce the federal debt, decrease spending and reform the welfare state.  Polls show voters still agree that these should be Congress’ priorities.
But since its victory, some in the GOP have been all too willing to compromise.
Back when Democrats were winning elections, they seemed to be guided by the aphorism “elections have consequences.”
“I won” was President Obama’s swift retort to GOP lawmakers in the first days of his presidency, as they argued with him over the shape and size of Obama’s stimulus package.
Bipartisanship, compromise—these aren’t dirty words.  But why is it they seem to dominate the debate only after Republican victories?
The Gang of Six’s plan would eliminate $3.7 trillion from projected federal deficit over the next decade, mainly through more than a trillion dollars in tax hikes and deep cuts in defense spending.
The Gang’s tax reform plan would lower the top marginal income tax rate to 29% and repeal the alternative minimum tax, among other changes, and it would presumably include a temporary debt limit increase.
What’s most troubling is how vague parts of the plan are.  It calls for spending reductions but doesn’t stipulate how spending would be reduced.  It calls on the federal government to “encourage greater economic growth” and “spend health care dollars more efficiently.”
As The Heritage Foundation notes, the deal makes a lot of promises and leaves the details to be worked out later.  Who will work them out?  Senate committees controlled by Democrats.
So the deal is, raise the debt limit now and put our faith in the likes of Harry Reid’s committee chairmen to cut spending and reform the tax code?  No thanks.
As James Capretta has written, “In short, the Gang of Six has essentially offered a plan in which Republicans would hand over control of the budget process to Democratic senators and hope for the best.  Enough said.”
By refusing to endorse the Gang’s bill, many congressional Republicans have provoked the ire of the Left.  Former Obama economics adviser Larry Summers thinks those Republicans are “financial terrorists.”
Conservatives are accustomed to such demagoguery.  Since the debt talks began, they’ve been accused of pitting “children with autism or Down syndrome” against millionaires, and wanting to force “the most vulnerable” to fend for themselves.
Last week, Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin labeled conservatives who refuse to capitulate “dead-beat debtors” and part of a “sort of cult fringe.”  Do Gang of Six Republicans really want to leave the details of their debt plan to the discretion of a group of people who routinely demonize Republicans and distort their views?
It’s not as if a better alternative has not been presented.  As Rep. Jim Jordan (R.-Ohio) said in a statement last week, “In case Sen. Reid didn’t notice, a bipartisan ‘Gang of 234’ just sent him the way forward.  It’s called the ‘Cut, Cap and Balance Act.’ ”
Cap, Cut and Balance would have cut $111 billion from this year’s fiscal budget, imposed annual caps on federal spending over the next decade and required congressional approval of a balanced budget amendment before the debt limit can be increased.
Cut, Cap and Balance passed the House last Tuesday in a 234 to 190 vote.  Last Friday, Harry Reid’s Senate tabled the bill, bringing its demise.
Now talk has shifted to a possible deal between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner.  As I write this, both sides are denying that a deal has been struck, or even that negotiations are taking place.  Few details are known.  But whether it’s the Gang of Six or Boehner and Obama’s “Gang of Two,” nothing that emerges now will adequately address America’s profound fiscal problems.  It will take a much larger gang of 150 million or so voters going to the ballot box on Nov. 6, 2012, to make the changes necessary to put America on the road to financial recovery.


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