"The GOP’s Not-So-Super Committee"
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced today their picks for the fiscal super committee created by the debt ceiling deal, naming Sens. Jon Kyl (AZ), Pat Toomey (PA), Rob Portman (OH), and Reps. Jeb Hensarling (TX), Dave Camp (MI), and Fred Upton (MI) to the body. The committee is tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction by November, and one of the key issues will be whether revenue increases are included. Basic economics and the American people call for increasing revenues, with a new CNN poll showing 63 percent of Americans want the committee to raise taxes on the wealthy, but several of the GOP picks are hard-right conservatives who likely oppose such a “balanced approach.” Other critical issue will be entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, and whether the committee makes cuts to military spending.
Here’s what you need to know about each of the GOP super committee members:
REP. JEB HENSARLING (TX): Super committee co-chairman Hensarling only has a tenuous grasp on economic facts, repeatedly making false claims about the deficit and debt and “falsely characteriz[ing] the debt limit fight as a consequence of spending policies enacted by President Obama and past Democratic congresses.” He has called Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid “cruel Ponzi schemes,” and believes that recessions are just “a part of freedom.” Hensarling has said corporate tax dodging is a good reason to cut the corporate tax rate. He also consistently carries water for Wall Street’s biggest banks, saying that bank profits should trump consumer protection.
SEN. JON KYL (AZ): Kyl is the number two Republican in the Senate and takes a hard line on taxes. He walked away from debt ceiling negotiations because Democrats wanted to raised taxes on those who make more than $500,000 a year, but he insisted there should not be a dime of increased revenues. He has also strongly defended tax subsidies for oil companies, and opposed ending an accounting gimmick that deprives the Treasury of up to $72 billion over the next five years in corporate taxes. He is also a staunch defender of military spending and is not afraid to twist arms to get it. For example, he held up the START treaty and extension of the Bush tax cuts late last year to extract more money for nuclear weapons. Like many Republicans, he has voted to privatize Social Security and supported the House Republican budget, which would effectively end Medicare. To his credit, however, he said he did not support tying an increase in the debt ceiling to a Balanced Budget Amendment.
SEN. PAT TOOMEY (PA): Toomey firmly believes in the GOP fantasy that tax cuts don’t actually cost anything, telling Fox News that “it’s not clear” that extending the Bush tax cuts and cutting corporate taxes would decrease revenues. He is firmly in favor of privatizing Social Security because he believes that “personal [Social Security] accounts lead to personal prosperity.” He has said he supports the budget passed by House Republicans (which would effectively eliminate Medicare) and released his own budget proposal that would turn Medicaid into a block grant, severely slash domestic discretionary spending, and likely result in a big tax increase on the middle-class that would fund tax reductions for the rich and corporations. However, Toomey does support cuts to defense spending, saying, “There is waste pretty much everywhere in the government, and that includes the Pentagon. Part of the problem is Congress voting on systems the Pentagon doesn’t even want.”
SEN. ROB PORTMAN (OH): President George W. Bush put Portman in charge of his Office of Management and Budget in order to meet “our goal to cutting the budget deficit in half by 2009.” Under Portman’s watch, the deficit nearly tripled. During the debt ceiling debacle, Portman was one of the GOP senators who actually entertained defaulting as an “opportunity to get our fiscal house in order.” Considering privatization “the greatest force in the universe,” he also suggested privatizing Social Security to bail out bad investors and voted in 2005 to divert Social Security dollars to create private accounts. He did hedge on all-out support of Ryan’s budget plan, but ended up supporting it. Believing that “spending, not tax cuts, causes future deficits,” Portman ran on the idea that “any tax increase would hurt the fragile economy.” As such, he’s continually advocated to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and is pushing to balance the budget in 10 years without a single tax increase. However, Portman did state in the past that he would support defense cuts as “the Pentagon has to be part of the discussion.”
REP. DAVE CAMP (MI): As the lower chamber’s chief tax writer, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Camp is a dogged defender of the wealthy. During the debt ceiling debacle, Camp actually declared that he’d rather have a bigger deficit than see taxes go up on “rich people.” In his struggle to find “a least damaging place” to raise revenue, Camp landed on one “free-riding” group of people that could stand to pay more: the poor. Of course, the preservation or pursuit of tax cuts — like the Bush tax cuts — will further increase the deficit. Camp, however, offers the familiar GOP idea that their expiration creates “uncertainty” and point blankly stated, “I don’t think you have to pay for extensions of current law.” Indeed, the only tax policy Camp seems to be (rightly) wary of is a tax repatriation holiday. Having already declared tax increases “off the table” on Obama’s previous debt commission, Camp is more likely to push a balanced budget amendment and the other disastrous cuts he backed in the House Republican “Cut, Cap, and Balance” plan. As for entitlement programs, Camp wavered and then voted in support of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan to end Medicare.
REP. FRED UPTON (MI): Though best known for his hard shift rightward toward global warming denial, Upton also backed the radical House Republican budget, the even more radical “Cut, Cap, and Balance” plan (which would take spending to a level not seen since the 1960s), and a balanced budget constitutional amendment. However, his position on revenues is a bit wishy-washy. He has said tax increases are “just not going to be part of the equation,” but has not ruled out tax reform that lowers rates but brings in more revenue through the elimination of tax loopholes and credits.
All of the GOP members of the super committee, meanwhile, have signed anti-tax activist Grover Norquist’s pledge not raise any taxes under any circumstances and support a Balanced Budget Amendment, which even former Reagan economics adviser Bruce Barlett calls unworkable, “dopey,” and “mind boggling in its insanity.” If the committee cannot agree or Congress does not adopt their recommendations, a “trigger” of deficit reduction measures, including big defense cuts, will automatically go into place — an option many progressives say could be better than anything the committee may put forward.