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We haven’t had the robust democratic debate about the role of government that lies at the heart of America’s budget stalemate. The truth is that most Democrats and Republicans want to avoid such a debate because it would force them into positions that, regardless of ideology, would be highly unpopular. This does not mean that the congressional supercommittee, charged with making modest cuts in deficits, need fail. There is a basis for honorable compromise; squandering it would confirm politicians’ preference for fighting over governing.

Contrary to much press coverage, the committee’s Republicans opened the door to compromise by abandoning — as they should have — opposition to tax increases. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania proposed a tax “reform” that would raise income taxes by $250 billion over a decade. First, he would impose across-the-board reductions of most itemized deductions and use the resulting revenue gains to cut all tax rates. Next, he would adjust the rates for the top two brackets so that they’d be high enough to produce the $250 billion. All the tax increase would fall on people in the top brackets.

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