Who Shot the Supercommittee? Ctd.

by Ramesh Ponnuru

David Weigel responds to me over at Slate. Here’s where I think we stand.

1) Weigel’s original argument was that Republicans’ insistent spin that they weren’t to blame for the supercommittee’s failure was proof that they were to blame. This seemed to me perilously close to the logic of witch-hunters, and he seems to have backed off the argument. Good for him.

2) Weigel concedes that Republicans on the supercommittee offered a net tax increase over today’s tax code, but notes that their offer would have been a big net tax cut compared to what the tax code will be after the Bush tax cuts expire. He believes that it’s the latter baseline that matters: Republicans acceded to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts when they made a deal with President Obama to extend them for only two years, and thus their supercommittee offer was actually an escalation in their demands.

Here it seems to me Weigel goes astray. No Republican to my knowledge accepted the deal as a final settlement of the future of the Bush tax cuts. The party position has been that those tax cuts should be extended indefinitely or made permanent. The supercommittee offer was a concession from that position. Now Weigel may well think that’s an unreasonable position and that the concession was inadequate, just as I think that Obama’s threat to veto a Coburn-Lieberman-style Medicare reform without tax increases is unreasonable. But if everyone accepted everyone else’s starting points and offers, there wouldn’t be much to negotiate about. Similarly, Weigel may think that Republicans’ willingness to accept a higher growth rate for Medicare spending than the Ryan budget called for is a minor concession because he finds their initial position unreasonable. But it’s still a concession.

3) Weigel characterizes me as saying the Republicans were “blameless” for the impasse. I think they share responsibility, as is almost always the case when a negotiation breaks down. Either side could have allowed a deal to go forward by simply capitulating to the other side. But it’s true that I don’t find fault with them for the breakdown. If they are right that the Democrats refused to entertain any deals, even small ones, unless they included $1 trillion in added revenue–and I have not seen Democrats dispute that claim–then I think Republicans were right to say no. But Weigel is of course correct that it is hard to know for sure what happened given the secrecy of the talks.

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