The next opportunity for Republicans to reform the federal government’s spending will be when the debt deal-mandated Super Committee forms to make its recommendations before Thanksgiving. Because the committee will consist of six Republicans and six Democrats with simple majority rule, the selection of the committee members is crucial: just one tax hike-friendly Republican could tilt the playing field in Democrats favor. In other words, “the ultimate product will only be as good for conservatives as the weakest Republican link on the panel.”
The Republican strategy is clear. James Capretta spells it out:
…under no circumstances should the GOP appoint members to the joint committee who are willing to entertain tax increases. If the Democrats on the committee insist on tax hikes as a condition for approval of a plan, then the Republicans should be prepared to let the clock start ticking toward the automatic cuts that would go into effect next year. If Republicans stand firm again, there’s a good chance they will come out ahead in the next battle, just as they did this time.
Ramesh Ponnuru thinks that this strategy just might result in real entitlement savings coming out of the Super Committee:
Pit domestic discretionary spending against middle-class entitlement spending. Liberals know that middle-class entitlement spending is more valuable to them politically, but they care more about discretionary spending. So the Republicans could hold the line on taxes while also advancing entitlement reforms that (1) spare the poor as much as possible, (2) yield savings within the budget window, and (3) don’t cross any ideological red lines for the Democrats. I think the Coburn-Lieberman Medicare reforms, though not perfect, would be a good template for Republicans on the commission to work with.
In effect the Republicans would be saying: Accept these entitlement reforms, or we’ll let the automatic cuts to both defense and domestic discretionary spending become law and see which side is more likely to get those cuts reversed in the political process.
The downside to this approach is that it would necessitate subordinating the priorities of national security conservatives (not to mention defense lobbyists) to the need for health care reform. But if Republicans played it perfectly, the end result would be much-needed, substantial reforms to Medicare, limiting the cuts to defense and near-term discretionary spending.
Edited for clarity.