Will the Super Committee save the day on debt?

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., August 11, 2011 – Holy smoke, Batman, there’s a new summer blockbuster coming to a theater near you:  Legion of the Super Committee!  You can almost see the trailer.  Cue the superhero theme … and “Action!  “While the country teetered on the brink of economic disaster, 12 brave citizens stepped forth to put Party politics aside to restore truth, justice and the American way.”  Let’s hope that it reflects reality rather than fiction … particularly with regard to “putting Party politics aside.”

The “Terrific Twelve” are now in place.

Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid took action first (which is a story in itself).  He selected Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who was named as co-chair, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA).

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rounded out the Senate’s members by adding Senators John Kyl (R-AZ), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Pat Toomey (R-PA) to the committee.

Then, Speaker of the House John Boehner named Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) as co-chair, along with Rep. David Camp (R-MI) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI).

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi put the finishing touches on the committee by choosing Representatives Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Xavier Becerra (D-CA), and Chris Van Hollen, Jr. (D-MD) to represent interests.

Together, they form the august (no pun intended) Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.

The “super committee,” as it’s called, is tasked with a super challenge:  to go where no politician has gone before … at least in recent years; i.e., to act in the best interests of the People in a demonstration of common sense and bipartisan accord.

The baseline goal of the super committee is relatively simple:  find a minimum of $1.5 trillion in additional budgetary savings that can be claimed over the next 10 years.   That would be added to the $2.1 trillion that was identified in the interim plan entered into on August 2nd to raise the total to $3.6 trillion.

Keep in mind that the credit rating agencies warned the United States that a possible downgrade might occur if a “meaningful” debt resolution wasn’t met, and by “meaningful,” they stated that a debt reduction plan in the range of $4+ trillion would be required.

For those of you who took math when it was still being taught in our public schools, you undoubtedly recognize that $3.6 trillion is less than $4 trillion.  Do not be alarmed!  The United States’ crediting rating will remain AAA.  When the Administration was queried about the possibility of a downgrade, no less of an authority than our own Secretary of Treasury, Timothy “TurboTax” Geithner, pronounced that there is “No risk of that.”  Oops!

Luckily, on the third day of the downgrade, the President arose from the Fed.  He told us, “Markets will rise and fall, but this is the United States of America.  No matter what some agency may say, we’ve always been and always will be a AAA country.”   Having been reassured by the President’s version of “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” you can just ignore any impact you may experience as a result of the downgrade.  It’s all good!

Following the President’s words of encouragement, the stock market went into a meltdown … much like Al Gore.  Come to think of it, maybe the economic meltdown is really being caused by global warming.

Of course, there’s a better answer than that.  Senator Kerry clarified the situation.  “I believe this is, without question, the Tea Party downgrade,” he said. “This is the Tea Party downgrade because a minority of people in the House of Representatives countered the will of even many Republicans in the United States Senate who were prepared to do a bigger deal, to do $4.7 trillion dollars, $4 trillion dollars, have a mix of reductions and reforms in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, but also recognize that we needed to do some revenue.”

Senator Kerry went on to say, “What we need is a Washington that stops this bickering.  Let’s get rid of these hard positions that I noticed even in Speaker Boehner’s comments about the downgrade, politicizing it in a sense, sort of blaming it on the Democrats and the lack of the decisions … Barack Obama put a $4.7 trillion deal on the table. Three times he was refused that deal (which almost sounds biblical) because there were some people in the Republican Party, and Mitch McConnell even admitted this, who wanted to default.  He said there were some people in his Party who were willing to shoot the hostage.  In the end, they found out that the hostage was worth ransoming.”

This is obviously a demonstration of President Obama’s January plea for more political civility in the aftermath of Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s shooting, during which he said, “Only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation … Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.”

It all bodes well for the bipartisan accord element of the super committee’s objective.  Speaking of which, some of the super committee selections were interesting. 

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), one of the co-chairs of the super committee, is the second-ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee and a long-time member of the Appropriations Committee, which is a good background.  She also happens to be chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in which her role is to make sure that the Democrats retain control of the Senate in 2012.

Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) also has a good background as he sits on the Committee on Finance and is the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Taxation and IRS Oversight as well as sitting on the Subcommittees on Health Care and Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy (among others).  However, he is viewed as the 4th most conservative Republican and is most famous for having claimed that abortion is “well over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does” (when the figure is closer to 3%).  Later, he explained that his comment was “not intended to be a factual statement.”  On the plus side, he’s retiring in 2013.

There are other members of the super committee whose political biases and faux pas are equally troublesome, but there is no need to bore you with the details.

However, let’s focus on the positive.  Most of the members sit on appropriate committees and subcommittees that expose them to the tax code and budgetary process.  While it may appear to be a leap of faith given the Hill’s most recent history, let’s pray that the members of the super committee will embrace the fact that their responsibility to the People surpasses their commitment to their respective Parties.

In the world of turnarounds, this really isn’t a particularly challenging problem.  The entity (in this case the United States) has created an infrastructure that cannot be presently supported by its revenue stream.

Step #1:  Reduce costs.  Eliminate any non-essential programs, personnel, etc. that threaten the long-term viability of the government.  Look internally first because it’s the area you can most readily control.

Step #2:  Restructure necessary elements to operate more cost-effectively and efficiently.  Eliminate redundancies, automate systems, reduce bureaucratic policies and procedures that slow down decision-making (particularly as it pertains to those “not so shovel-ready” jobs that the President admitted were delayed by needless levels of approval), etc.

Step #3:  Consider strategies that will increase revenue.  Republicans and members of the TEA Party, this means that you shouldn’t ignore the possibility of exploring strategies that will improve cash flow in a manner that will allow you to reduce debt.  Democrats, this means that any associated revenues should be used to reduce debt rather than to fund new social programs that will otherwise expand it.

Unlike private sector businesses that have to earn revenue, the government has the power to ordain it.  With that power goes much responsibility.  If you truly believe that “all men are created equal,” now is the time to recognize that it is wrong to place the burden of the debt, which you as our elected officials created, on the backs of the middle class … or on the backs of the wealthy.  This is an opportunity to revise the tax code in a meaningful way that allows all Americans to share in the cost of freedom to the degree that they can.  It is an opportunity to bring Americans together rather than to further tear them apart.

Sure, you’ll have to eliminate the loopholes you have created to curry political favor but recognize that your responsibility is to the People … not to feather your own nest or that of your Party.

If you take this step seriously, you may actually find that everyone could experience a rate reduction on a percentage basis.  The rhetoric about the inequity of “hedge fund managers paying a lower percentage than their secretaries” will go away if you eliminate tax loopholes that were created to attract campaign contributions and political support.

The original tax code was 400 pages.  Today’s code tips the scales in excess of 72,000 pages.  To put that into perspective, the Constitution of the United States of America, which forms the basis of the entire federal government, is six pages (including a page for its Letter of Transmittal and one for the Bill of Rights).  Stop playing the class warfare card and fix the problem that you created.

Step #4:  Tell the truth.  If a particular “entitlement” program is going to go bankrupt without intervention, tell us.  We can handle it.  Then, fix the problem in an equitable way.  Stop trying to gain a political advantage by claiming that one Party is hiding in a room trying to figure out how to create an unfair tax advantage for their particular constituency and, during the course of the discussion, decides to kill seniors or deprive aid to the disabled.  Correspondingly, don’t tell us that the other Party is plotting the overthrow of the United States government because of their fervent belief that Communism will actually work somewhere … someday.

If you truly believe that we all possess “certain unalienable rights” and “that included among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” then you know that we are not guaranteed happiness; we are only promised an equal opportunity to pursue it.  Don’t use the term “entitlement” for political gain.  We are entitled to the fruits of our labor.  We are entitled to fulfillment of the promises you have made when you unilaterally determined what we should pay in taxes and for what purposes those funds should be used.

Step #5:  Call me.  I am tired of hearing who is to blame.  I am tired of hearing that you need a committee.  I am tired of hearing that nothing can take effect until after the next election.  Call me, and I’ll help you fix the problem.

If I have to do the President’s job, I will bill you at the President’s rate:  $1,095.89 per day plus expenses.  You can keep the house and the private jet.  I’ll have earned the money and will gladly pay my fair share of taxes on it.  That should make everybody happy.  As the President said in his address of the downgrade, “Making these reforms doesn’t require any radical steps. What it does require is common sense …”  So, pick up the phone.  I can be there tomorrow.  It’s time to get America back on track.


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.


This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, The Common Sense Czar, in the Communities Section of The Washington Times.