They can't strike a deal so they want to pull a fast one. With only one week left, members of the bipartisan Super Committee are resorting to accounting gimmicks and legislative sleights of hand to magically produce $1.2 trillion in deficit savings without significant tax increases or spending cuts. The book-cooking has even awoken infrequent tweeter Donald Rumsfeld, imploring the committee this morning to "End the budget gimmicks. Congress and candidates should tell us what they will cut now, not in a decade." Here are the five ways the committee is looking to weasel out of its job:
Iraq War Savings Even though the committee had nothing to do with the decision to redeploy troops from Iraq, they would like to claim credit for it in their deficit proposals. This was a tactic previously derided by Republicans, but they're starting to warm to it, according to National Journal. "With the super committee’s clock ticking, the inclusion of so-called war 'drawdown' amounts from the Overseas Contingency Operations fund is now being routinely included in various proposals offered and traded by members of both parties on the 12-member panel," they write. Depending on how this tactic is used, it could get the committee almost all the way to the $1.2 trillion target. "The White House has said more than $1 trillion will be saved from the drawdown of troops, a computation that relies on a Congressional Budget Office assumption that war spending stays at the temporary levels of last year for the next 10 years."
Changing the "baseline" According to a report in today's Wall Street Journal, changing the "baseline," i.e., the starting point for measuring the bill's impact on the deficit, is also gaining traction on both sides of the aisle. Here's how it works:
The Congressional Budget Office, the official scorekeeper, has traditionally measured savings against the cost of continuing policies under current law. Such an approach assumes Bush-era tax cuts expire at the end of the year, meaning extending them would add $3.7 trillion to the deficit over 10 years.
Both Democrats and Republicans have indicated willingness to change the baseline to assume the Bush tax rates are extended, with no impact on the deficit.
Deferring power This was a tactic floated by Super Committee Republican co-chair Jeb Hensarling on Sunday. This would involve the committee deferring the toughest decisions about how to raise revenue to the tax-writing committees of Congress, which would delay the decision to next year. “There could be a two-step process that would hopefully give us pro-growth tax reform,” he said on CNN's State of the Union.
Planning on growth Another Republican tactic to inflate savings numbers is to account for increased economic growth if taxes are cut, which in turn would result in higher collections. But that's a theory Democrats are opposed to, as today's Journal report explains. "Republicans have long argued the impact of policy changes on the deficit should take broader account of their economic effects. As a result, their proposals take credit for higher tax collections they say would come if rates are cut. Democrats won't acknowledge such hypothetical gains."
Repealing the trigger Instead of finding a solution, some Republicans on the Super Committee are already talking about repealing the trigger to avoid painful cuts to defense spending, as The Washington Post's Ezra Klein reports today. "Republicans are talking about unwinding the trigger before the supercommittee has even finished its work. They are, in other words, reneging on the terms of the debt-ceiling deal ... Behind the scenes, the White House has taken a similar line: the trigger can't be changed to exempt defense and fall more heavily on domestic spending."