The deficit reduction package passed by Congress in August created a "supercommittee" of six Democrats and six Republicans, charged with producing, by Thanksgiving, at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade. If it fails, or if Congress refuses to adopt the committee's proposals, automatic spending cuts of $1.2 trillion would be enacted, starting in 2013.
Right now, Option B is looking like an odds-on favorite.
Government outlays have tripled in approximately the past 23 years. Slashing total federal spending in half would not mean returning to the dark ages -- that would merely return spending to 1996 or 1997 levels.
No Americans were starving in the streets in 1996, no schools were closing for lack of teachers, nor were our rivers and skies full of toxic fumes or raw sewage. So why not slash government back to those levels?
Forget about it.
"Spending cuts alone are not going to put Americans back to work or put our budget back in balance," argues the super-committee's Democratic co-chair, Washington state Sen. Patty Murray, without explaining why. Tax increases on "the rich" must be included in any deal, she asserts, adding: "We have to address both spending and revenue."
Of course, Republicans will resist any tax hikes.
Many on the committee want to tackle corporate tax reform, as requested by President Obama. Indeed, tax simplification is a great idea -- so long as rates are lowered at the same time loopholes are eliminated, thus rendering the changes revenue-neutral.
But Congress has been ignoring the need to simplify the tax code -- which weighs enough to give a grown man a hernia -- for decades. Is there an Alexander at hand who can untie this Gordian knot with a single slash of his sword? If not -- given that a camel was once described as a horse designed by a committee -- can such a job be done by Thanksgiving?
Committee member Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., doubts it.
"I'm for going down this road. I think we should lower our corporate rates very significantly," Sen. Baucus said. But, he added, "This is not an easy undertaking, corporate tax reform. It takes time."
Can this gang reach bipartisan consensus to do anything?
Miracles can happen -- especially with the 2012 re-election clock ticking. But till then ... take the under.