Who says Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on faith-based government initiatives? That’s exactly what the “Gang of Six” senators, with Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss as one of their front men, proposed Tuesday.
Set aside for now the real nitty-gritty of the sextet’s long-rumored grand bargain, which is still emerging and, like everything in Washington, is subject to change. What struck me most about the proposal was that, in this era of distrust — Republicans vs. Democrats, Congress vs. the White House, the electorate vs. the elected — it relies so heavily on mutual faith.
If you’re agitating for tax hikes, you’re expected to believe the plan will actually generate the $1 trillion in new revenues (in 10 years) the Gang says it will. Which may be difficult, given that much of the supposed extra revenue will come from stimulating economic growth by ending tax loopholes and lowering marginal rates.
If you’re nervous about tax hikes, you’re expected to believe, well, that much of the supposed extra revenue will come from stimulating economic growth rather than actually raising taxes. And that Congress will keep lowering marginal rates to ensure new revenues don’t exceed $1 trillion. Which may be difficult, given that some estimates already peg the increase at $2 trillion.
If you’re agitating for spending cuts, you’re expected to believe Senate committees will follow through on their respective shares of the $2 trillion of cuts (again, in 10 years) the plan outlines for them. Which may be difficult, given that those same committees have failed to cut spending for years.
You’re also expected to believe in the plan’s enforcement mechanism against any committee that doesn’t follow through: allowing any five Republican and five Democratic senators to get a vote on their own set of cuts for that committee’s portion of the budget. Which may be difficult, given that even these three Republicans and three Democrats couldn’t agree to specific cuts.
You’re further expected to believe capping discretionary spending at 2011 levels for the next four years is a good idea. Which may be difficult, given that 2011 represents an all-time high for discretionary spending. Even President Barack Obama’s 2012 budget, which the Senate defeated 97-0, called for less spending than that.
If you’re nervous about spending cuts, you’re expected to believe Congress will stop at the $500 billion “down payment” the plan requires. Which really isn’t very difficult, come to think of it, even if some left-wing activists are trying to conjure some ire toward the plan.
Finally, because the hour is so late, Congress would be hard-pressed to pass this plan before, or in combination with, an increase in the debt-ceiling by Aug. 2. So, anyone who supports the plan is expected to believe Congress and the president would still sign off on it after approving a debt-ceiling deal, which may or may not include big spending cuts or tax hikes. Which may be difficult to believe, given Washington’s track record on its promises.
Trust fulfilled, as an antidote to distrust, would make for a great story.
But if you’re having trouble believing, don’t blame Chambliss and his five colleagues. There’s no reason to think they’ve left any options, or firmer ground for compromise, unexplored.
If the Gang’s product relies too heavily on faith — that the other side will deliver what you want, or maybe even that what you’re expected to give will be scuttled when push comes to shove — it may be because the two sides cannot join their competing visions for what Washington is supposed to do and be. They’re that far apart.
And what’s difficult to believe if that’s true?
That this story ends well for any of us.
– By Kyle Wingfield