Don't let the super committee fail
September 17th, 2011
09:47 AM ET

Don't let the super committee fail

Michael E. O'Hanlon

Editor's Note: Michael O’Hanlon specializes in national security and defense policy and is senior author of the IraqAfghanistan, and Pakistan Index projects. You can read more from him on the Global Public Square.

By Michael O'Hanlon - Special to CNN

With President Obama’s expected unveiling of a detailed deficit reduction plan this upcoming week, aimed to influence and cajole the super committee, which must report with its proposal by November 23, the debate about how to reduce our huge fiscal overhang is about to get intense again.

President Obama can be expected to put forth a balanced approach for cutting $1.5 trillion in government spending, with a mix of tax increases and spending cuts in most discretionary parts of the government budget as well as some aspects of Medicaid and Medicare. Most likely, any tax increases the president proposes, relative to the current Bush-era tax rates due to expire at the end of next year, will focus on just higher-income earners.

This will be a reasonable plan. But if the super committee goes a different direction, and its 6 Republicans adamantly oppose any talk of any tax increases whatsoever (or, more accurately, any suggestion that Bush tax cuts not be extended), there is a better approach for Democrats than to simply vote it down and allow sequestration to kick in. They should take whatever package of balanced spending cuts is possible to achieve this year, approve it, and then let the 2012 campaign be a referendum on what to do next.

Read: Libya vindicates Obama's multilateral leadership.

Sequestration would be a bad idea because it would devastate national security as well as key domestic investments funded within the so-called domestic discretionary accounts. Both these areas of spending would be targeted for disproportionate cuts if the super committee is unable to forge a deal or if Congress is unwilling to pass whatever deal it comes up with. Among other things, defense cuts could then approach $1 trillion over ten years with precipitous cuts beginning in 2013. This would require the nation to make unpalatable and indeed unwise choices, like whether to maintain its strong defenses in the Persian Gulf or the Western Pacific Ocean, because it will no longer be possible to do both well, even as Iran intimidates and China rises.

Many Democrats, myself included, would find it unreasonable of Republicans to refuse to include any revenue increases in a budget deal this fall. Given that tax rates are historically quite low today - lower than at most periods of Reagan’s presidency, lower than during Clinton’s time in office - there is a very reasonable case to go back to 1990s rates until we can reform the tax code (ideally reducing exemptions in the process, and possibly adding an energy or a value-added consumption tax too, thereby permitting lower income tax rates to go with increased revenues). Globalization, automation, and other innovation have continued to help the wealthy of this country disproportionately and it is only right that upper-income Americans pay a bit more in taxes.

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But if the GOP refuses this argument in the fall, smart political tactics would not be to have Democrats fall on their swords and block a deal. Not only would the resulting sequestration jeopardize crucial federal programs and investments, but the resulting standoff would sour Americans even more on their current government - and jeopardize the economy even more, in both the short term and the long term.

The better strategy would pocket whatever balanced deal is available, including some entitlement reductions and even some social security reforms. Everyone could then acknowledge that more deficit reduction work needed to be done and the two parties could fashion their proposals for next steps and ask the voters to help the nation choose via the 2012 elections. Democrats would presumably suggest that some tax increases would be preferable to further deep cuts in discretionary accounts or big reductions in entitlements. Republicans would likely continue to oppose any tax increases and perhaps bring out a modified version of the Ryan Plan as their vision for the future. Ideally, both parties would also lay out ideas on tax reform, not just on income tax rates.

Read: How an accounting issue could destroy America's budget.

There is no reason such an approach should work strongly for or against either party. It would be a straightforward choice for the American people, easy enough to explain and campaign on, honest and constructive in its character, and in the best traditions of democracy. And any politician truly confident in his or her views on fiscal policy, national investments and taxes should be unafraid to ask the voter for a verdict.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Michael O'Hanlon.

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Topics: Debt Crisis • Economy • Politics • United States

soundoff (193 Responses)
  1. Arran Webb

    ** CNN ignores Wall Street protests taking place right now with thousands of people on Wall Street and City Hall **

    September 18, 2011 at 9:56 am | Reply
    • stacib

      They are ignoring it. I noticed this yesterday too. Speaks volumes. A great example of filtering.

      September 18, 2011 at 10:31 am | Reply
  2. Merlin

    If our ever omnipotent political leaders (both parties) wanted a super committee to really work, they would have appointed at least two judges who specialize in chapter 11 bankruptcy to tell the committee where and what to modify in order to reduce debt. What do politicians know about debt reduction? All they know is how to spend money, as if it were pouring from a bottomless pitcher. The well has run dry and now they decide its time to scramble? What a revelation...

    September 18, 2011 at 10:12 am | Reply
  3. Stu

    1 trillion dollars sounds like a lot. But over 10 years it is $100 billion a year. We are spending more than that each year lingering in Iraq and Afghanistan and messing around in the 'Arab Spring'.

    September 18, 2011 at 10:25 am | Reply
  4. slomoven

    Has anyone heard the GOP pushing for anyone to pay more taxes. The desire is smaller government period.

    September 18, 2011 at 10:33 am | Reply
    • Goby98

      I'm afraid you are wrong. It is not shrinking Government that is the goad, but merely the method of securing a greater goal. Republicans do not want rich people to depart with THEIR money. A larger government is fine, as long as it does not cost the wealthy anything. Republicans do not support continuing the current payroll tax cut. That is because the middle class and poor benefit from it, and if you sit home collecting dividend checks and have never actually worked before do not pay it. And remember, Republicans were more than willing to let the middle class tax cuts expire last December if the rich didn't get their beaks wet too. Obama was even willing to exempt those who make less than $1million a year to extend the middle class tax cuts. Reps said no.

      September 18, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Reply
  5. Michael

    Being an individual of modest means and educated – there are 2 primary things I will do to protect myself from the terrorists.
    1. Never – ever vote Democrat or Republican again.
    2. Stock up on canned food – and survival gear.

    If you are smart – you will do likewise!

    September 18, 2011 at 10:46 am | Reply
  6. Politicians Suck

    How difficult is it to trim the debt? Start by not spending more than you take in. Foreign aid would be the first thing to cut. If you can't help yourself, you shouldn't be trying to help others.

    Next would be the military spending overseas. Who exactly are we saving the Iraquis and Afghani from?

    Next stop allowing 'pork belly' attachments to bills being voted upon. If the measure can't pass on its own merits than it should not be passed at all. Just say No to these darn roads and bridges to nowhere.

    September 18, 2011 at 10:49 am | Reply
  7. rick perrytwit ... slack jawed bible thumper

    All over America teabaggers are wandering around their trailer parks like brainless little zombies. They're waiting, of course, for Sarah Palin to weigh in on this and give them direction.

    September 18, 2011 at 10:50 am | Reply
  8. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    I predict the super committee will deadlock on straight party line votes and force the automatic budget cuts. Then each side will blame the other for political reasons.

    September 18, 2011 at 11:29 am | Reply
  9. Nobama 2012

    NO plan he has purposed to date has been with the bucket to carry it to the dung pile, this one will be no different! And no, I don't make $1,000,000 in annual salary and yes, I do pay my taxes. I still want this blemish GONE!

    September 18, 2011 at 11:41 am | Reply
  10. Birdeye

    The super committee will deadlock and then the automatic budget cuts will kick in. I can't wait. Yes, both parties will blame each other but we, the people, get what we need – a decreasing deficit.

    September 18, 2011 at 11:41 am | Reply
  11. Eric Klassen

    It's time to stop calling these the "Bush tax cuts". The Bush Tax Cuts have expired already. Their extension should be known as the "Obama Tax Cuts".

    September 18, 2011 at 11:53 am | Reply
  12. Samuel

    Bottom line is that we have had the tax cuts for ten years ! Where are the jobs ? Also, have the rich and companies creating jobs for Americans. The companies prepared themselves for Globization, they failed to do the same for Ameican workers. Tax cuts, cheaper labor overseas, large corp tax breaks and catering to oil conpanies have not help America. So, please drop that arguement. You have witnessed what ten years of the cuts have resulted in. Please...that is a clown agruement for the GOP. And I am a GOP supporter. But, at sometime we have to think and act toward a more perfect union....the USA ! Country first... thank you. Save America !!

    September 18, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Reply
  13. Samuel

    Eric, No comment but this. "Back to the books and your cave !!"" What are you talking about ?? This is why we as a nation are in trouble...We need to stop the bull, educate ourself and have clear no bull decisions.

    Thank you

    September 18, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  14. Samuel

    We dont want health care for American who can't afford it. However, at a time when we are attempting to balance a budget. The military is still providing dental and medical to other countries who can't afford heatlh care ! I am not saying we should not help others. But, before we not provide to Americans ! The others countries should be second. So, we cut medicare, dont want heatlh care, stolen all of the money from Sec Security. Save America....

    September 18, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Reply
  15. JohnRJ08

    If there are Republicans or Tea Partyers on the committee, it will fail because those political theologues refuse to give President Obama anything that remotely resembles a political victory. An improved economy would be the biggest victory of his presidency. NEVER going to happen.

    September 18, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Reply
    • TTommy

      You're right about one thing. Our economy isn't going to change with Obama at the helm. Business people genuinely fear him and his socialist agenda. He has taken away my incentive to hire, when I can darn sure use the help, but I know I'll be penalized greatly for doing just that. Why would I hire now when every time I turn around I'm being attacked, demonized, and forced to pay more in employee benefits. I'll just wait his presidency out before I make a move. And I'm sure I speak for millions of other small business owners.

      September 18, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  16. NoTags

    The first thing we should do to help the debt situation is get out of Afghanistan IMMEDIATELY. If you need to be enlightened on the situation there go to pbs dot org, click on PBS PROGRAMS then scroll down and click on FRONTLINE (Not Frontline/World). In the left pane scroll down and click on KILL/CAPTURE. This is a 54 minute video that aired on May 10, 2011.

    Although the whole video is well worth watching the section delaing with reintergration begins at about 39:55 and runs for a few minutes. Especially notice the conversation that beins at 43:19 between a Taliban member who has been reintergrated and a local tribal villager. The reintergrated Taliban member doesn't remember that his mic is on. Here is part of that conversation.

    "I asked an old man if there were any Taliban there. He mistook me for Taliban and said, "Yes, they are here." I asked him where. He said, in his house. What should I do?

    Later Aziz (sp.?) trys to persuade the village elders to hand the Taliban over without a confrontation. He forgets he is wearing a microphone.

    "Right, the Taliban who are hiding here...I was a member of the Taliban myself. About 30 fighters worked for me. I joined the Government side about a month ago. But the Taliban are still my brothers. Look, we don't like the Americans. We've had bad experiences with them. They're infidels. They're the enemies of our religion, our nation, and our honor. If God makes the Taliban successful, then we will be Taliban again. Do you understand? On that day, we will be Taliban."

    In the last 10 years we have spent approximatly $442 billion dollars in Afghanistan and had approximately 1,800 American casualties (not including wounded). Anyone who believes we are going to make a change in that Country is delusional. As soon as we leave the Taliban will be right back in power. We are in a quagmire in Afghanistan just like we were in Vietnam. It's time for the American public to stand up and say "enough is enough" we need to get out NOW.

    September 18, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Reply
  17. hollybury

    I am posting here because CNN will not allow comments (except for one clearly "planted" comment) on the "Good versus Evil" story on the front page. That article series has no place in a serious news channel like CNN. It is clearly put there to incite sympathy for fundamentalist Christians, and now no one can comment on it to challenge or criticize it. The way things are headed in this country makes me want to throw up every minute of the day and night.

    September 18, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Reply
  18. TTommy

    I say let's have an HONEST discussion about taxes. Let's talk about EVERYONE paying their fair share. Quit picking on those who pay taxes and start talking about those who don't ... like 48% of all Americans. They are the ones who are not paying their fair share. They, and Obama, are fine with attacking those of us who do, but watch them recoil when anyone suggests THEY pay THEIR fair share. This is all about class warfare. It's always been there just under the surface, but Obama, in his desperate attempts to get re-elected has brought it to the surface. So let's deal with it right now. Everybody pays something and quit allowing half of America a free ride on the coattails of the hard working wealthy, and yes, I said HARD WORKING wealthy,

    September 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Reply
    • Goby98

      Then perhaps you should start by making the honest assertion that the majority of taxes paid for people who work for a living (as opposed to those who collect their dividend checks) are payroll taxes, not income taxes. When you factor those taxes, not to mention sales taxes, the working class and poor pay higher tax burdens than even the working rich. When you factor in the idle-rich, with a far-lower capital gains tax, they pay MUCH higher taxes than the rich.

      September 18, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Reply
    • Capt Nemo

      Let's start with the fact that the huge majority of the 48% or so who pay no taxes are in low income brackets (that is, they're poor), so their tax burden is low to start with and exemptions or deductions (earned income credit, deductions for dependents) prevent them from paying (much or any) more than they already lose to witholding.

      If you're going to bandy statistics around, you should make sure they prove what you think they do. some people evade taxes, but that's not what this 48% statistics is about...

      September 19, 2011 at 9:21 am | Reply
  19. allens

    come on, did anyone really believe the republicans were going to let the panel succeed? don't be silly, thiws was just a way for the repubs to let the funding occur. i hope obama knew this and just went along to get funding. this panel was not supposed to succeed.

    September 18, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  20. Frank

    When Obama and the Democrats occupied the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives and the Democrats had a majoriity in both houses during Bush's second term, did they reform welfare? No.

    September 18, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Reply
    • david

      I believe bush veto twice on that.

      September 19, 2011 at 2:37 am | Reply
  21. obamayakyak

    There should be no more discussion of this subject. The 2012 elections will resolve the issue. Mr. Obama and his regime members are not into much truth speak so the only way to resolve any of this is with regime change.

    September 18, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  22. enough of the lies

    to bad all the jokers that have never been in a real job are the ones looking at cutting the deficit, haha all of you jerks are comunity organizers who should prepare to lose your jobs in 2012. Let The Revolution start, lock and load and pick the targets and lets tell them who they are so they can get ready for unempl;oyment, We The People are coming and those who do as we told you will be targeted and in our cross hairs.

    September 18, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Reply
    • Capt Nemo

      >Let The Revolution start, lock and load and pick the targets

      This is why people who talk like this terrify a lot of other people; you blithely say things like this and then when somebody who's half crzy to start with acts it out, you pretend to be insulated from responsiblity for your actions and words.

      Please don't use violent rhetoric: people get hurt that way.

      I'm betting that if you'd ever seen real violence, or been badly hurt somehow, you'd be a lot less enamored of violence.

      September 19, 2011 at 9:25 am | Reply
  23. Matt

    If you tax the rich (small or large businesses) they are just going to pass it to the consumer. Think about it, If you owned a bakery and sold bread at $1/loaf that only cost you $.50 to make. That is a $.50 profit. Now lets say that you have to pay a higher tax, and you are now paying a $.25 tax on every loaf of bread you sell, Now that is only a $.25 profit. What are you going to do to get $.50 profit a loaf back??? Any smart person would say, "raise the price of bread $.25" So now you the consumer pays $1.25/loaf. Do you see how this works and why it is bad liberals???

    September 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Reply
    • James

      I would spend $.25 on new oven or other tax deductable items......that way I don't pay any more tax than I was before and the new ovens would use less energy than the old ones increasing my total profit

      September 18, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Reply
    • Goby98

      The basic fundamental understanding of economics holds that those with more, spend less; so taxing the wealthy has less of a negative affect than taxing the merely average. Trying to confuse the issue by suggesting that the prices of bread will go up ignores the reality that if you do not tax the rich, you must then tax everyone else. If consumers have less money, then they buy less bread. Assuming that somehow a shopkeeper can make $200/250K a year on a business that, at best, has a 2 percent margin (laughing at the assertion), with demand plunging, his revenues plunge. He makes less money than he would have than if he paid the darn tax to begin with!
      (Incidentally, demand is more sensitive to price increases than you assume. Just ask Proctor and Gamble–you can raise prices usually no more than half the increase in the costs of production. That is why cost cutting yields such high profits.)

      September 18, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Reply
  24. RickMeister

    ...anyone who signs a pledge that will always do X or they will never do Y is unfit to hold public office and should be impeached immediately.

    September 18, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Reply
  25. Master

    CUT government as deep we can survive without it! More these overpaid: panels experts advisors administrators committees, we have deeper we are in debt! Reduce Government to the bone NOW!

    September 18, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Reply
    • Brad

      So you're ready to drop social security, medicare, and medicaid? That's 50% of government spending right there.

      September 19, 2011 at 7:34 am | Reply
  26. Kingugbert

    First, stop the pensions for all government workers (phase them out like corporate america has done). Second, remove all loopholes and deductions and set a single tax rate for all individuals (why should some pay a lower or higher percentage than others?). The percentage to set this tax rate should be calculated based on the expected annual budget (plus some payment towards the debt).

    Then start looking at how to reduce the cost of medicare/medicaid and the amount of defense spending. Those three (defense, gov't pensions/salaries and medicare/medicaid are the biggest three components of where the taxpayers money goes).

    September 18, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Reply
    • Goby98

      There are problems with your suggestion. First, are you suggesting that people who paid into pensions for the past 30 years should have them seized by the Government for the "public good?" Second, since the 1980s, Federal Pensions have been largely eliminated in favor of what is basically just a 401K plan. The "pension" is basically less than one would get from Social Security. As for a flat tax–countries which have implemented them, such as Estonia, find that they tend to decimate demand for goods and services, as it leads to a few very wealthy persons (who tend to live on private islands in the Caribbean) who spend little to no money, and a largely poor population, who have no money to spend. It works only for an export-only economy. IN the US , consumer demand drives the economy.

      September 18, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Reply
  27. Ron

    I keep saying it, hoping people will see the truth; Democrat or Republican, both are no good. Both parties only care about themselves and about getting reelected. We need a grassroots party that puts its citizens first. Stop sending money to foreign governments, protect the border, penalize corporations that send jobs overseas just to name a few.

    Banks and Wall Street need to be regulated not just for the sake of regulation, but because they obviously do not have the discipline necessary to regulate themselves.

    Congress and Senate should both be subjected to a vote of no confidence if they do not perform well no matter what party they are affiliated with.

    These are just a few ideas to start with. Abolishing the Fed? I'd have to looking into that one a lot further.

    September 18, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Reply
  28. Guyus

    12 people in the position of a life time. A chance to make a real difference.
    With a thousand special interests at the castle door all with battering RAMS trying to knock the door down to look after their special interests. Narrow and self serving.

    My question is, "What is the problem we are trying to solve ?"
    What is the window in which we want to influence most critically?
    Is it OK to go beyond the mandate and do something truly extraordinary ? If yes, what could that be ?

    What is the vision of a prosperous America in 2050 ? And what can I do to set the nation inexorably on the path to be the nation that we have imagined romantically in our minds ?

    Are we prosperous ?
    Are we militaristic ? or is peace our mantra ?
    How do we fit in on a globe with 12 billion people ?
    Are we responsible about the mother earth that must sustain us and our children ?

    This is a pivotal thing and it is about more than the budget and debt. And it is about more than whether or not the rich need to pull their weight or not.

    To lay the corner stone of a master plan to right the ship and go full steam ahead, there has to be the vision and some criteria to decide. We cannot solve our problems today, but we can embrace a more positive manifest destiny. If the 12 have the insight and will to decide most expeditiously.

    I just read about the factors that led to the fall of Rome, is that what we really want ?

    Carpe Carpe Carpe Diem folks, make your lives extraordinary.

    September 18, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Reply
  29. zlul

    The thing is, we are currently going 1.4 trillion into debt every year. So in 10 years at this rate, we'll add 14 trillion onto our national debt, or essentially doubling it. This current plan will cut 1.4 trillion over ten years, or 140 billion per year.

    Now lets look at Obama's new tax plan and lets assume they tax the rich according to Buffet's analysis. This would be a 50% tax rate on incomes over 1 million. This will generate about 110 billion per year. So 1.4 trillion – 110 billion – 140 billion = 1.15 trillion left over that we add to our debt every year.

    This plan, while a step in the right direction, will still be a failure to address the issues. Heavy heavy spending cuts need to be made across the board, including military spending, if we want to even begin to break even in the years to come.

    September 18, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Reply
    • Goby98

      There is a problem with your extrapolation: no domestic demand-based economy in history has EVER been able to drastically cut spending and have the economy improve. The main reason for the budget deficit is a lack of tax receipts as a consequence of what was an economic meltdown. This meltdown was so bad that even significant Government "spending" (actually, most of it was just inefficient tax breaks rather than real spent dollars) failed to lower unemployment. BUT, it did prevent a bad recession from a significant increase in unemployment, which would have made the budget deficit worse. Slashing Government spending now will assure a major economic slowdown, increasing the budget deficit, NOT balancing the budget. This is economics 101 stuff.

      September 18, 2011 at 11:22 pm | Reply
  30. Lenny Pincus

    Seems both sides are simply angry that capitalism has failed America, and with good reason. Capital doesn't recognize national boundaries. Capital has no aliegence to nations. Capital exists to create profits, and if it is profitable to leave the American middle class behind, that is exactly what's going to happen. Democrats know it and try to regulate it–and fail. Republicans are afraid to admit it–although it is a perfectly logical extension of their economic thinking–because it completely destroys their American exceptionalism fairy tale.

    September 18, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Reply
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