Lobbyists, of all people, may soon inadvertently bring us what lobbyists have long fought against – – a flatter, simpler tax code that offers fewer gifts for special interests. As a bonus, it would also help bring down the deficit.
To understand why this happy result may be in reach, we must return to a subject you’re sick of: the much-maligned deal Congress struck to lift the debt ceiling. That deal set up a process that might not be advantageous to the forces of extortion in the same way the old one did.
The new law cuts about $900 billion in discretionary spending and establishes a 12-person “supercommittee” to find $1.5 trillion in additional savings over 10 years. At least they’ll be looking in the right places: tax reform and entitlement reform. With a mere majority of the 12 required, they must present a bill to Congress for an up-or-down vote (no amendments) by Christmas. If the bill fails, the now-famous triggers will automatically cut $1.2 trillion, half from defense and half from non-defense programs, including Medicare.
The rock-hard assumption in Washington this week is that the supercommittee can’t possibly get anything done. Depressed Democrats, girding to fight the last war, are certain that Republicans will gladly take hostages once again rather than make concessions on the revenue side.
In this scenario, the triggers will be allowed to go off because the cuts aren’t scheduled to begin until 2013. Both sides will put off the reckoning until the lame-duck session of Congress after the 2012 elections. At that point, with the Bush tax cuts about to expire, Republicans would finally have an incentive to make a deal.