Baucus slams the Conrad-Gregg deficit commission
If the Chairman and Ranking Republican Member of the Budget Committee are in such broad agreement on their goals, why don’t they just skip the commission and go straight to their recommendation? That is exactly why Congress created the budget resolution and the reconciliation bill.
The politics here is that Baucus doesn't want the Finance Committee bypassed. But that doesn't obviate the substance of Baucus's critique. The answer you'd want to give to this question is that Congress is broken and polarized and incapable of making hard decisions and so we need a special process that sidesteps some of the veto points. But the Conrad-Gregg Commission is not, as far as I can tell, that process. Instead, it adds new veto points.
Yglesias suggests this is because Conrad and Gregg "have no real intention of reducing the deficit." I don't really agree with that. If they have no real concern for this issue, then it's not clear why they're spending so much time on it. Gregg, for one, is actually retiring, so it's not obvious what interest he'd have in a kabuki commission.
The more appealing hypothesis, I think, is that Gregg and Conrad are too close to the Congress to have a really clear sense of its dysfunction. You saw this amidst the Gang of Six, too, where no one in the room seemed quite able to believe that the personal relationships of the actors couldn't overcome the centrifugal forces of our politics. "The dynamic in that room was very positive and very constructive," Conrad told me after the negotiations fell apart. "We kept making progress until we just sort of ran out of time. I felt we were getting to the point where we were reasonably close. Several more weeks, and there might have been an agreement."
I have no doubt that he believed that, but I also have no doubt that he was wrong. As he qualified a moment later, "But that's outside the political discussions." Nothing, however, is really outside the political discussions. The idea of this deficit commission seems like the idea behind the Gang of Six: It's theoretically insulated from politics, and thus offers an opportunity for people of goodwill to come together and do the hard work of the country. And that will be fine right until the agreement is struck and released into the wilds of the political discussions, at which point it will die.
I want to make one other point on the right way to think about deficit commissions, but that'll have to wait for a coming post.
Photo credit: Charles Dharapak/AP.
December 11, 2009; 1:29 PM ET
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