Why The Super Committee’s New Tax Expert Could Be Key To Its Success

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It’s a mistake to read much into the fact that the Super Committee picked a staff director, or that he’s a long-serving Republican aide. There’s a temptation to read deeply into these developments, but ultimately the 12 members of the Super Committee will either reach an accommodation or they will not, and that much is up to them.

On that score, it is interesting that the staff director, Democrat or Republican, has extensive knowledge of the tax code.

This goes back to the final hours of the debt limit deal. The Super Committee will draft legislation that CBO will score relative to current law. That means CBO will score whatever they produce as if expiration of ALL the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2012. Want to make Bush’s lower-income and middle-class tax cuts permanent, and let the top bracket cuts expire? No can do. That scores as a big tax CUT — and thus counts against the committee’s goal of reducing the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.Yes, that’s maddening. If the Bush tax cuts expire, there’s no medium-term deficit problem, and thus no need for a Super Committee. And yet Republicans insist on assuming the cuts will expire in order to make sure they don’t expire.

Still, if panel members want new revenues to count toward deficit reduction, they will likely have to look outside the basic structure of the Bush tax cuts. Creating new tax brackets would work, but the GOP is more dead set against that than closing myriad existing loopholes, reducing tax expenditures, etc. That’s why tax code expertise is important — and as multiple Democrats, both on and off the record, were eager to point out Tuesday, Mark Prater has tons of it.

“Mark Prater’s selection as Staff Director is a very positive start for the work of the Joint Committee,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) said Tuesday. “Mark is well respected on both sides of the aisle and, throughout his career, has demonstrated an ability to work in a bipartisan fashion to get results. He is a consummate professional. He is a terrific choice to serve as Staff Director.”

Whether the fact that he’s a Republican makes it more or less likely they’ll find avenues both Republicans and Democrats can agree upon is difficult to say. And whether they ultimately find enough new revenues to lure Democrats to support entitlement cuts is largely up to Democrats.

But that’s where this is headed.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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