Members of the New Super-Committee: Don't Take the Pledge!

A reader sends in this quite reasonable suggestion about the members of the new 12-person  "super committee" that is supposed to work out a budget-and-deficit deal by Thanksgiving time:

>>People should start to say about the GOP 6 on the super committee:

Either they renounce their Norquist Pledge or they are unacceptable. You can not negotiate what's not on the table. And revenue must be on the table. This is not saying that revenue must be part of the solution, but it must be on the table. How can you negotiate with folks who pledge not to negotiate?<<
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The suggestion is "quite reasonable" in a logical sense: if parties to a negotiation are pledged not to consider certain options, the discussion is hamstrung before it begins. Of course the same should apply on both sides: Democrats should not go in bound by a pledge to refuse to consider changes in entitlement programs. Obviously we know that each side is strongly biased toward defending its values and interests -- the Republicans skeptical about "revenue" solutions, the Democrats about safety-net changes. But if they're pledged from the start not to budge one inch, what's the point of the meetings at all?

If there were a counterpart to the Norquist Pledge (that's Grover Norquist, above), I'd say that the six Democrats should forswear it. But there isn't one, as far as I'm aware. Whether there is or not, the high-road, national-interest stance for the Democrats -- hell, for all Americans -- should be: no one, from either side, goes into these talks bound by preconditions or constraints. We need to work as honestly and flexibly as we can, with our differing beliefs, to find solutions.  Because again, otherwise, there is no point in wasting time with these talks.

Also, Joshua Green is absolutely right: please, please don't make the discussions public, or all participants will feel obliged to posture all day long.
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I said this was "quite reasonable" from a logical point of view. Of course in the real world it's "quite unlikely." But what is a good reason, as opposed to a mere power-politics refusal, for the GOP to turn down a "all prior pledges set aside" request? Shouldn't they be put under pressure to defend the good faith with which they're approaching these talks? I can't help it, it's the optimist in me.

UPDATE: It seems that I needn't have bothered to be optimistic about a "all pledges set aside" approach to the negotiations. At least that is what I infer from Grover Norquist's tweet yesterday about the GOP appointments:
GroverTweet.png

As reader JK pointed out, "your wallet is safe" was a revealing comment for Norquist to be making, on a day when the Dow average was down by more than 500 points.

Also, a group with which I normally agree, the Sunlight Foundation, has argued that people who support private deliberations, like Joshua Green and me, are wrong, and that everything the super-committee does must be in public.* Obviously I agree that the results of the committee's discussions need to be subject to full public inspection and debate. But even in the best circumstances, I think the odds of this committee's coming to a "real" compromise agreement are very low. Forcing them to deliberate in public reduces that probability to zero, in my opinion.

You could argue that given the low chance of success in any circumstances, you might as well err on the side of openness. OK -- if, in making that argument, you face the reality that negotiations before TV cameras are negotiations that are bound to fail.

*I've heard from the Sunlight Foundation that this misrepresents their position, and that they recognize the need for some private deliberative sessions along with the public sessions that would give the committee some legitimacy. OK. I have nothing against some proceedings in public. My point is that actual "compromise," hard enough to imagine in the best of circumstances, becomes almost impossible if the trade-offs have to be made in front of an audience.   
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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