In a city renowned for the quantity and quality of its political spectacles, the upcoming debt supercommittee hearings might be the most superficial waste of time in the history of Washington. I've said enough about why and the extent to which I do not care about this – the predetermined outcome, the mindless rhetoric, the heavy, ponderous chin-stroking in the media, and many other common features of our kabuki theater politics – and I hoped to leave it at that. But to underscore the "predetermined outcome" part, consider the initial proposal made by the Democratic members of the committee:
The new deficit-reduction plan from a majority of Democrats on the congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the “supercommittee”) marks a dramatic departure from traditional Democratic positions — and actually stands well to the right of plans by the co-chairs of the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson commission and the Senate’s “Gang of Six,” and even further to the right of the plan by the bipartisan Rivlin-Domenici commission. The Democratic plan contains substantially smaller revenue increases than those bipartisan proposals while, for example, containing significantly deeper cuts in Medicare and Medicaid than the Bowles-Simpson plan. The Democratic plan features a substantially higher ratio of spending cuts to revenue increases than any of the bipartisan plans.
The Democratic plan contains $92 billion more in Medicare and Medicaid cuts ($475 billion) than Bowles-Simpson ($383 billion), and the same or a greater amount of cuts in this area than the Gang of Six plan.
At the same time, the Democratic plan contains $800 to $900 billion less in revenue increases than the Bowles-Simpson and Gang of Six plans.
Remember, this is the initial proposal. The starting point. Whatever they finally pass will of course be far to the right of this. So what we'll end up with is a policy outcome to the right of a proposal that is to the right of the previous sham "bipartisan" committee's recommendations that were already to the right of center. Say what you will about the modern Democratic Party, but they sure know how to fire up their base.
For the life of me I cannot fathom their strategy here. It appears to be yet another round of "If we start negotiating by offering a thousand huge concessions up front, surely the GOP will negotiate in good faith." Yes, and surely Charlie Brown will kick that football this time. Of course the Republicans have already summarily rejected this proposal as Insufficiently Austere, thus we are assured of dozens more concessions in the next few weeks to produce a final bill that they will vote against anyway.
Once again the strategy, if any, being employed by the Democrats is a mystery to me. They continue to punt the talking point, "The GOP wanted to screw you and we opposed them," in favor of, "The GOP wanted to screw you and we proposed that they screw you slightly less, and then we settled on you getting screwed but with some lube and a Wendy's Frosty afterward." Who is the voter that they believe this approach will win over? Who do they envision responding positively to this inexorable march to the right, which not only eliminates the Democrats as a legitimate alternative to the GOP but also drives the already dangerously extreme GOP base even further rightward?
Obama and his party were successful in 2008. To repeat that in 2012, they're banking on the existence a few hundred million voters, contributors, and volunteers in the electorate who will get really fired up to support a Democratic Party so completely sold out to moneyed interests that its policy positions have outflanked the Republican Party of the 1980s on the right. For their sake I hope these voters exist, or else this very curious strategy is going to have to appeal to the same voters, contributors, and volunteers who put them over the top in 2008.
Good luck with that. But hey, I bet Jamie Dimon loves it. Isn't that what matters?