The select bipartisan committee charged with the next step in Washington's deficit reduction challenge is taking shape, with the Democratic Senate representatives named this week. We can think of three suggestions that might change the dynamic for this next round of brinksmanship:

The select bipartisan committee charged with the next step in Washington's deficit reduction challenge is taking shape, with the Democratic Senate representatives named this week.


Given the financial and political turmoil wrought by Congress' bungling of the debt ceiling debate, can we hope for any better when the 12-member committee goes to work? Not if the leaders of both parties in Congress keep spouting the same no-compromise talking points, and not if the process –– marked by unproductive negotiations, entrenched positions and weak presidential leadership –– doesn't change.


The select committee, made up of six Republicans and six Democrats, is charged with finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction by December. If Congress doesn't act by the deadline, what are being called draconian cuts would automatically hit the defense and entitlement budgets.


Having seen how little the threat of a government default focused the minds of some Congress members, we wonder if the automatic cuts will be any more effective. But hope springs eternal. We can think of three suggestions that might change the dynamic for this next round of brinksmanship:


- President Barack Obama must be a leader, not a mediator. He was so focused this summer on the thankless task of brokering a bipartisan compromise that he never produced his own detailed proposal. Hence, those inclined to support him never knew what to fight for.


This time, we'd like to see Obama produce specific proposals on spending cuts, entitlement reforms and tax reforms and use his bully pulpit to build support for them.


- Let the Democrats take the lead on entitlement reform, with the expectation that they must save a specific amount in projected spending. They are more likely than Republicans to find savings while keeping Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security viable for generations to come.


- Let the Republicans take the lead on tax reform, with the expectation that the changes will result in a specified amount of new revenue. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to look for reforms that increase competition in the marketplace and for tax increases that don't threaten the fragile economic recovery.


The main benefit of such an approach comes when the votes are counted. Republicans are more likely to support tax reforms if they produced them; Democrats are less likely to resist entitlement reforms if they are blessed by their party's leaders.


We can't claim to be optimistic about the chance Republicans and Democrats in Congress can overcome the polarization that made Round 1 of the deficit reduction debate so disappointing. But their chances of getting a better result are zero if they don't approach the problem differently.


-- MetroWest Daily News (Mass.)