Two Contrary Visions of America Doomed the Super Committee

Who says the Super Committee couldn’t produce a consensus?

In the aftermath of its failure, just about everybody seems to agree that the committee’s demise resulted from both parties’ unwillingness to put the country’s interests ahead of their own.

But the deep divisions that made the Super Committee’s task of cutting the federal budget by $1.5 trillion hopeless from the start merely reflect the deep divisions in the country and in many voters’ minds.

Each party is blaming the other for the committee’s failure.  But polls show most Americans blame Democrats and Republicans equally.

The committee’s inability to reach a consensus will probably drive Congress’ approval rating even lower than its already-record-low of 13%, according to the latest Gallup poll (and leave many to wonder: who are the 13%?).

Frustrated voters are saying “throw all the bums out.”  But we shouldn’t be surprised that the committee of six Republican and six Democratic congressmen couldn’t agree.  Nor should we necessarily blame them.

The committee did not succeed because none of its members were elected to Congress to compromise, but rather to fight for very different visions of America.  As Super Committee Co-Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R.-Tex.) wrote last week, “… we could not bridge the gap between two dramatically competing visions of the role government should play in a free society, the proper purpose and design of the social safety net, and the fundamentals of job creation and economic growth.”

The Super Committee’s inability to reach a compromise was a result of the past two elections—elections in which the American people sent contradictory messages.

In 2008, Bush fatigue, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, and the public’s awakening to the economic crisis, handed Barack Obama and his big government, high-tax allies a landslide victory.

For two years, the Democrats controlled all the levers of power in the federal government.  And they did exactly what they were expected to do, enacting multibillion-dollar programs, tax increases, a massive and costly health care overhaul, and one of the harshest regulatory schemes in recent memory.

The shock of these and other policies gave birth to the Tea Party movement and drove President Obama’s approval ratings from the low 70s to the mid-40s.

If the 2008 elections were defined by the word “hope,” then the 2010 electorate’s emphatic one-word response was “stop!”

Republicans made historic gains in Congress, and in state legislatures and governorships across the country.  Hundreds of new legislators were elected, promising to undo what Obama and his allies had enacted.

But the Tea Party and other small government legislators came to Washington and found a liberal political establishment that was more entrenched than they expected, and stubbornly committed to continuing to pursue their high-tax, big-spending agenda.

Meanwhile, another grassroots movement had arisen, one that believed Obama had not done enough to grow government.

The Super Committee’s troubles were a reflection of the 2008-2010 divide.  The Democrats were elected to grow government and tax the rich.  The Republicans were elected to shrink government and lessen the tax burden.

These are not positions that lend themselves to compromise.  There is only one solution to end the gridlock: another election.

If Obama wins reelection in 2012 and the Democrats regain control of the House and retain the Senate, there will be little gridlock.  Republicans will be nearly helpless to stop the continuing march toward socialism.

If the Republicans win the White House and the Senate, the gridlock will also vanish.  Republicans will have all the pieces in place to enact a simpler tax code, and to reduce taxes, spending and burdensome regulations.

I understand why voters are frustrated and angry.  But the current impasse merely reflects America’s recent contradictory voting patterns.  Before Washington can act decisively, voters must act decisively.  

But first voters must decide what matters most to them.  Polls indicate that most support spending cuts.  But they also oppose reductions in spending for programs they benefit from.  They want the best of both worlds.  But instead they’re getting the worst of both worlds: continuing deficits, high unemployment, low growth and legislative inaction.

I cannot remember a time in my more than 30 years in Washington when the two parties were as deeply and broadly divided as they are today, not just on spending and taxes and the size of government, but also on seemingly unrelated issues such as the sanctity of human life and America’s place in the world.

Republicans and Democrats live in two parallel universes, and offer visions of two very different Americas.  Ultimately, it will be up to voters to choose decisively which America they want to inhabit.  For the future of America, I hope it’s the path of fiscal responsibility and economic renewal.