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Forget taxes, focus on Medicare

It may be called a ”supercommittee,” but nobody expects any heroics. The deal reached over the summer to raise the debt ceiling created a bipartisan committee to identify ways to reduce budget deficits by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years.

Few people expect anything to come of it, assuming that it will deadlock over taxes. But there may be a way for the committee members to avoid that fate: They should skip the paralyzing arguments over taxes and focus on paring back Medicare spending.

Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania who is on the committee, says they can generate bipartisan reform that reduces both tax rates and deductions. But if that plan results in a net tax increase, it is unlikely to get enough Republican support to pass Congress. If it doesn’t, it won’t be scored as yielding any deficit reduction. Democrats, meanwhile, are unlikely to support cuts to entitlements unless taxes are raised.

President Barack Obama recently said he would veto reductions to Medicare benefits unless matched by tax increases, with aides going on the record to say that the White House had entered ”a new phase” in which there would be no ”legislative compromise.” No wonder at least one member of the supercommittee is telling colleagues that he isn’t holding out much hope for progress.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist and a senior editor at National Review.