Dylan Scott is a GOVERNING staff writer.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
To the surprise of few, the Congressional joint deficit reduction committee, commonly called the supercommittee, announced this week it would be unable to reach any deal to reduce the federal budget deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. As part of a deal conceived this summer to raise the federal debt ceiling, sequestration cuts divided evenly between defense and domestic discretionary spending will likely now be enacted on Jan. 15, 2012.
On editorial pages nationwide, newspapers condemned the committee's lack of agreement as a failure or some other ready-made pun. Some, though, offered thoughts on the lessons to be learned from that failure and hinted at solutions to addressing the federal budget deficit in the long term.
The Newark Star-Ledger focused its criticism on the Republicans' unwillingness to include more revenues -- they peaked at $300 billion -- as any part of a bargain. The newspaper suggested that the upcoming battle over extending the Bush tax cuts would likely be the next fulcrum over which the debate would continue. But in the meantime, the Star-Ledger warned against allowing a Social Security tax cut to expire or letting the extended unemployment. Those policies are necessary to keep the already slow economic recovery going, the newspaper said on Nov. 23.
"Republicans are balking, saying this spending will add to our debt in the short term. That's true," its editorial stated. "But most economists, liberal and conservative, say the economy needs the stimulus spending now."
"The headlines about the congressional supercommittee are all screaming 'failure,'" wrote the Contra Costa Times in its Nov. 22 editorial. "The parties' inability to find common ground on deficit reduction was not a shining moment for Washington, but it may turn out to be a good thing." Because, the newspaper argued, the focus would now be on each party's "spending and taxing priorities." Higher taxes on the highest earners are "what the majority of Americans want," the Times said, while reductions in payroll tax cuts or programs such as food inspection don't make sense.
The Kansas City Star called for mutual sacrifice in a Nov. 21 editorial, saying: "Middle-income Americans must accept adjustments in entitlements and very wealthy households must return to 1990s tax rates." The newspaper emphasized its point by comparing the sacrifices made by American troops who are overseas compared to the relatively simple sacrifices that a shared effort to reduce the deficit would demand.
Newsday saw a silver lining in the supercommittee's failure: it likely means Bush tax cuts will expire next year. Their expiration would reportedly fill a $4 trillion hole in the overall deficit, the newspaper noted, while encouraging President Barack Obama to veto any attempt to undo the automatic cuts as he has already pledged.
"There is no shortage of blame to go around for the dismal state of our finances," Newsday asserted. Letting the tax cuts expire would be a worthwhile first step, the editorial board added, and some cuts to entitlement programs are probably necessary. "The only danger is that all this fiscal tightening will set in while our economy is still perilously weak," it concluded in the Nov. 22 editorial. "[A]ll we can do is hope growth picks up before the cuts and taxes bite too deeply."
The Baltimore Sun turned its attention to the public following the supercommittee's failure, saying they must apply pressure to Washington where "Republicans and Democrats have been rushing to point fingers." The newspaper pointed to opinion polls as proof that Americans largely sided with Democrats in their call for increased taxes for top earners. It called for an extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance, a measure the editorial said should have been addressed by the supercommittee, as part of the effort to keep the economy going. Cuts for the military and domestic programs, a key element of the debt deal, are also needed, the newspaper stated.
"[T]he American people need to make clear to their representatives and senators that the consequence they face for failing to come to a fair and responsible agreement to cut the deficit is one they fear more than automatic defense cuts: losing an election," the Sun concluded in its Nov. 22 editorial. "If that prospect is not enough to persuade them to do the right thing, they deserve what they get."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer accorded blame to both sides, calling the failure to reach an agreement a "bipartisan flop." Both sides, the newspaper said in its Nov. 22 editorial, failed to make the "politically distasteful calls" on spending cuts, including those for entitlement programs, and revenue increases, including taxes on the more affluent. If there is going to be a resolution to the deficit crisis, the editorial board said, politicians on both sides must willing to make those difficult choices.
"This is not a moment for partisan trifling. It is a moment to think big and go big in reforming our fiscal home," the Plain Dealer asserted. "For the sake of all of our futures, the national interest -- for once -- must trump the politicians' interests."