The Arizona Republic did a smart thing in writing an Aug. 14 “open letter” to challenge Sen. Jon Kyl to strive for “greatness” through his service on the deficit reduction supercommittee.
“Finding $1.5 trillion in budget savings essentially constitutes failure,” the paper’s editorial board wrote. “Finding a path to national economic coherence is the real goal, or should be. And no one knows that better than you.”
Kyl’s decision to retire at the end of this term frees him from re-election worries and makes it possible for him “to find common ground with your fellow committee members to attack this complex problem,” the paper concluded.
It was a call to arms for Kyl, showing the way for him to cap a solid career in the Senate by doing something great. He would join the great men and women throughout history who stepped up at key moments in the nation’s history and did something important for their country, often at the risk of personal loss.
The Republic, as a longtime fan of Kyl and supporter of him through every campaign and many political fights, was in a unique position to challenge him to strive for greatness. It was a friend challenging another friend to do something special.
What has Kyl done since then?
At first, Kyl seemed willing to take on the challenge, writing in a Republic guest column that “saving $1.5 trillion over 10 years is clearly not enough” and he “will push for as much (savings) as possible to improve our financial situation and help our fragile economy.”
At the same time, however, Kyl refused to even consider revenue increases, saying he would favor only “revenue-neutral tax reform.”
Taking revenue increases off the table sharply narrows the supercommittee’s options. All that’s left are spending cuts.
Then, on Sept. 15, Kyl took defense spending cuts off the table, too. In an extraordinary speech, he said that he would quit the supercommittee “if we are going to talk about further defense cuts.”
So much for “finding common ground,” as the Republic had hoped. Instead, Kyl is running in the direction of ideological purity, taking a position that will never pass muster on the bipartisan supercommittee.
Worse, Kyl’s “give me what I want or I’ll go home” threat is a charade, and Kyl knows it.
The law creating the supercommittee says that if the panel can’t reach agreement on spending cuts, then $500 billion will automatically be stripped from the defense budget.
So, Kyl can quit, but that would virtually guarantee $500 billion in defense cuts.
Kyl undoubtedly would try to “spin” those cuts by saying that he opposed them, or by blaming them on Democrats. But Arizona voters should see through the charade and hold him responsible for those cuts. He’s on the supercommittee, so he owns the result. Quitting would be a coward’s way out, not a statesman’s.
If Kyl wants to protect the Pentagon from another dime of budget cuts, then he needs to step up with a plan for finding $1.5 trillion in non-defense cuts that can win the support of a majority of the supercommittee. He needs to spell out what federal programs he wants to kill, and what services he wants to sharply curtail to meet that goal. And, most important, he needs to find cuts that would win the vote of at least one Democrat on the supercommittee to get his way.
And if Kyl wants to meet the Republic’s standards, then even $1.5 billion in cuts isn’t enough. That would be failure for Kyl. The Republic’s goal, remember, is more than $1.5 trillion in budget savings, a goal that Kyl originally embraced back in August.
Instead, Kyl has been running full speed in the other direction, fueling critics’ longtime view that he’s merely an apparatchik for the Republican Party and the military-industrial complex. He has signaled that he’s willing to see the supercommittee fail for the sake of maintaining his ideological purity and that he has no intention of seeking, much less finding, common ground. No other supercommittee member has been so boldly partisan.
More important, there is no way that Kyl is going to find a compromise that would make more than $1.5 trillion in cuts from non-defense programs. That goal is impossible if both revenues and defense spending are off the table.
By the Republic’s standards, would mean that Kyl has failed. Failed.
It will be worth watching the Republic’s opinion page for the next couple of months to see whether the paper speaks out about Kyl and the direction he’s heading, taking another shot at nudging Kyl to strive for greatness instead of taking the easy way out.
The outcome of this challenge also will say a lot about the Republic’s editorial board. Will the editorial board finally recognize that Kyl isn’t close to being a great senator and never was, and that he has been overrated by the paper all these years? Or will the editorial board find some excuses for Kyl — that the Democrats refused to budge (ignoring that Kyl, too, refused to budge), or the process was flawed (ignoring the fact that Kyl voted for the legislation that set up the supercommittee)?
We won’t have long to wait to see how this turns out. The supercommittee’s deadline is Thanksgiving.
AZR, or Arizona Reader, will write from time to time on media coverage of the Arizona’s politics and public policy debates. AZR can be reached at email@example.com.