Don't Save Republicans from Themselves

With the Super Committee near collapse, will the Democrats snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory? Republicans, by locking themselves into no new taxes at a time when two-thirds of Americans prefer to tax millionaires instead of cutting Social Security and Medicare, are in a nice pickle.

Over the weekend, Republicans on the Super Committee proposed to trade about $300 billion in net revenue increases for more than $2 trillion in permanent tax cuts. Democrats, mercifully, did not take the bait.

Some Republicans on the panel, such as Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, proposed a “two step” process, whereby the committee would agree on a target figure for revenue increases and leave the details to the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

But the Texas Two-Step is another trap. Cuts in Social Security and Medicare would be negotiated first, and the details of tax hikes would come later—after Democrats had given up their leverage. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who used to be considered some kind of progressive, was quoted by The New York Times as calling the Republicans’ willingness even to discuss taxes “a breakthrough.” Senator Max Baucus of Montana, who heads the Senate Finance Committee, was reportedly open to a deal.

The Republicans are on the ropes on this one. They are now on the unpopular side of two key issues—raising taxes on the rich and defending social insurance for everyone else. And they are willing to talk about revenues at all only because they just looked at the fine print of the bargain they imposed on President Obama in August—if the Super Committee doesn’t come to agreement by November 23, automatic cuts in military spending kick in, and without further action, the Bush tax cuts expire next year.

The Democrats are holding all the cards. Is this really the moment to save the Republicans from themselves?