By Juan Williams - 11/07/11 10:15 AM EST
Republican stonewalling on tax hikes for the very rich remains the primary obstacle to the supercommittee reaching a debt deal to restore stability to the nation’s economic future.
On the issue of raising taxes for the rich, the GOP majority in the House has defied the will of the American people, the Democratic majority in the Senate and the president.
So, it is maddening that some Democrats now want to mimic the GOP’s politics of polarization by undermining the supercommittee as it approaches its Nov. 23 deadline.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) recently introduced a bill to repeal the entire supercommittee, and the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts that are to be made if no deal is reached. She says the committee is “illegitimate” and that it “borders on unconstitutional.”
Waters is not alone in feeding the fires of total political dysfunction. House Democrats are frustrated at their limited power in negotiating any deal. As the economy teeters on the brink of disaster for want of a deal, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said last week he has “no stake” in the committee.
He lambasted the supercommittee structure, created by congressional vote, as an “outrageous process” that is “not open and transparent.” He added that there were “things put forward by Democrats [on the supercommittee] … that I would never vote for.”
Contrast those hardline statements with the somewhat conciliatory words last week from Republican Speaker John Boehner. He said the House GOP leadership realizes a deal is “more important now than it was over the summer.” And the Speaker said without a deal he fears the spread of European economic chaos to the United States.
Also last week, Alan Simpson, the former Republican senator from Wyoming, publicly scolded his fellow Republicans for signing pledges not to raise taxes. He even called out the man threatening any Republican who dares to consider a reasonable match of tax hikes for spending cuts.
“There’s no question about his power,” Simpson said of Grover Norquist, the no-tax activist who has locked up 279 Republicans — including the six on the super committee — by having them sign pledges never to raise taxes no matter what economic crisis, war or natural disaster visits the nation.
“And let me tell you, [Norquist] has people in thrall,” Simpson explained. “That’s a terrible phrase. Lincoln used it. It means your mind has been captured. You’re in bondage with your soul.” Simpson sardonically suggested that if Norquist is really as powerful as he thinks he is, he should run for president.
Another encouraging sign from the right arrived last Wednesday when a group of 40 House Republicans signed a letter encouraging the supercommittee to explore new revenue as part of a “big deal” that would reduce the nation’s debt. They joined with 60 House Democrats to urge a grand bargain of revenue increases and spending cuts.
But let’s be real. The bipartisan letter is no more than a token of goodwill. Simpson is long gone from the Senate. And it is unclear whether Boehner can deliver his caucus for any compromise package.
That said, Republicans can read polls that show their hardball tactics have left them with a 22 percent approval rating. That is why Boehner is trying to sound reasonable. He still opposes any tax hike but is looking at ways to get a deal with increased fees, sales of new radio spectrum licenses and the closure of tax loopholes.
If Boehner finds enough new revenue, then Democrats in Congress can’t risk a spiteful, tit-for-tat temper tantrum that blocks a deal.
At the supercommittee’s public hearing last week, witnesses on the left and right spoke pessimistically about the ability of Republicans and Democrats to stop the brinksmanship, put the good of the nation above politics and make a deal.
Democrat Erskine Bowles, President Clinton’s former chief of staff, talking about Democrats joining the Republicans in the eye-for-an-eye politics of mutual destruction said: “I have great respect for each of you individually, but collectively, I’m worried you’re going to fail — fail the country.”
Already Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, is turning the world on its head by suggesting Democrats are to be blamed if the supercommittee fails.
“I’m now convinced that the president actually believes he would be benefitted by the committee not succeeding,” he said. McConnell’s sly theory is that Democrats don’t want a deal because success “would step on [Obama’s] storyline that we can’t do anything on a bipartisan basis.”
The question now is which side will step up and break the gridlock. It calls to mind President Truman’s maxim that there is no limit to what can be accomplished when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.
Or, in the case of the supercommittee, who gets the blame.
Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.