June 22, 2018
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Supercommittee succeeded in finding targets

The congressional supercommittee’s superfailure at crafting a deficit reduction plan is inexcusable. But despite the committee’s inability to come up with a bipartisan solution, its work was not a complete waste of time and effort.

The collapse of compromise came as each party clung to their strongholds, if the rhetoric being spun is accurate. For Democrats, it was protecting programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. For Republicans, it was not rolling back the Bush-era tax cuts. The success of the committee, then, was in identifying the key areas of focus.

The subject of this week’s The Maine Debate is how taxes might be raised to produce the new revenue sought by Democrats and how so-called entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid might be pared down to win Republican support. Join us here beginning at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 22 and weigh in with specifics on where and how new taxes should be levied and how cuts to entitlement programs might be made.

If the Democratic and Republican factions of the supercommittee were management and union locked in conflict, an arbitrator would know exactly how to proceed: water down the proposals from each side and call it a compromise. Done. In politics, of course, nothing is that simple.

Republicans are hoping to use the deficit, about which Americans are rightly concerned, as a rallying cry in the 2012 elections. Given President Barack Obama’s support for the Troubled Asset Relief Program and his $800 billion stimulus program, it will be easy to add the failure of the supercommittee to the president’s liabilities.

On the Democratic side, the hope is to hammer home the view that the GOP is coddling the richest 1 percent and refusing to ask it to shoulder any more of the tax burden. In the face of exploding debt and deficits, their argument goes, it’s only patriotic to ask the rich to pay more.

Clearly, the tax cuts crafted by the George W. Bush White House and enacted in 2001 and 2003 must not remain the final word on tax policy. Those tax rates should not be treated as if they were tablets handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai. Since the income tax was created, Congress and presidents have tweaked both rates and brackets.

The current top rate of 35 percent has been in effect since 2003, down from 38.6 percent in 2002 and 39.6 percent in 2000. Since 1913, no rate has been in place more than 10 consecutive years; from 1954 to 1963, the top rate was 91 percent; from 1971 to 1980, the top rate was 70 percent. In other words, historically speaking, it’s time to change the code to reflect a changing economy and changing times.

Social Security and Medicare also must reflect changes; specifically, changing demographics. The huge bulge of baby boomers who began reaching age 65 this year is the game changer. And people are living longer than ever before. Clearly, benefits to keep our elderly out of poverty and keep them healthy are important, but they must be reconfigured to meet these challenges. Means testing is one approach; raising the retirement age is another. Both are reasonable.

By most accounts, the two parties were willing to see defense spending and nonsocial service programs cut.

“Our Democratic friends were never able to do the entitlement reforms,” Republican Sen. Jon Kyl said of his work on the committee.

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, one of the commitee’s co-chairs, said Republicans wouldn’t budge on taxes. “The wealthiest Americans, who earn over a million a year have to share, too. And that line in the sand, we haven’t seen Republicans willing to cross yet,” she said.

There’s an opening for the president or a leader or group of leaders in Congress to swoop in and carry a compromise across the finish line. What might that look like? Join us at The Maine Debate.

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