Conversely, Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) has quietly built a good reputation on budget matters, but she also runs the committee charged with electing Democrats to the Senate, which may dilute her zeal for a bipartisan solution.
It's a shame that neither Senate leader appointed anyone from the "Gang of Six," the bipartisan group that was forging its own compromise deficit-reduction proposal. Their work was based on recommendations from the earlier Simpson-Bowles commission, which produced a bipartisan plan unpopular with hard-liners in both Republican and Democratic camps.
The Gang of Six's approach had won some degree of support from more than 30 senators in both parties. Excluding all six of them from the supercommittee was a bad call by both Senate leaders.
Antitax guru Grover Norquist opposed appointing any Republican member of the Gang of Six because they were too soft on raising taxes. Norquist got his way with the House Republican appointments, too. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas) was appointed to the supercommittee, but he was a "no" vote on the Simpson-Bowles panel's ideas.
Democratic supercommittee member Rep. Xavier Becerra also voted against Simpson-Bowles. But he objected to cuts in Social Security and other liberal programs.
The public must hope that the supercommittee will rise to the occasion in a way not suggested on its members' resumés.
For all his antitax rhetoric, Toomey has always seemed to be someone who could be persuaded by reason rather than blindly following a path that leaves no room for compromise. If an anticommunist President Richard Nixon could open relations with communist China, maybe an antitax Toomey can bring himself to endorse a plan with some helpful amount of revenue increases.
The supercommittee has to confront a simple, mathematical fact: The gap between spending and revenues is too big to close with just spending cuts. We're borrowing 40 cents of every dollar spent, when federal revenues are at a 50-year low, measured as a share of the national economy (less than 15 percent). Even an antitax ideologue like Toomey has suggested he could live with a federal revenue stream amounting to 18 percent.
In Britain, where the Conservative-led government's severe austerity program has helped preserve that country's AAA bond rating, while contributing to social unrest in troubled neighborhoods, this year's budget includes new taxes producing revenues of 30 billion British pounds ($49 billion). That's about 27 percent of the deficit-cutting total, and about 27 percent more than hard-line Republicans in this country are willing to abide in the way of added revenues.
Meanwhile, if the supercommittee is going to win public support for any plan, it must work in full view of the public, with plenty of time to consider its proposals. The Sunlight Foundation, an open-government group, is pushing for maximum public access to this profoundly important process. That call should be heeded.
Should the supercommittee fail to agree on a plan, or should Congress fail to pass it, a fusillade of automatic cuts will be triggered, inflicting deeper damage on the already-fragile economy. If there's any hope Congress will pass a balanced mix of spending cuts and revenues, it has to come from the supercommittee, but the early signs are not encouraging.