The little commission that couldn't
If you were worried about the deficit-reduction commission being developed by Democrat Kent Conrad and Republican Judd Gregg, then worry no longer. These is no deficit-reduction commission. There's a commission that will think up ideas for deficit reduction, but it won't be able to do anything about them.
The Conrad-Gregg commission will have 18 members and require the agreement of 14 of them before it produces recommendations.Those will then require a supermajority not only in the Senate, but also in the House, where no such mandate exists. This is the legislative equivalent of cooking a meal with one hand tied behind your back. The process is harder than usual and rich with new veto points. It's as if Conrad and Gregg concluded that reducing the deficit is too easy and that Congress needed a challenge. "Next time, they could also require the commission members to create a cold fusion reactor or retrieve a magical ring from inside a volcano," says Jon Chait.
Lawmakers have a peculiar resistance to admitting the problems afflicting their institution. There needs to be a Conrad-Gregg entitlement commission because bipartisanship has broken down. In response, Conrad and Gregg are setting a higher bar for bipartisanship? It's like trying to cure the flu by competing in a triathlon. You can respond to the breakdown of bipartisanship by making bipartisanship less necessary (say, by ending the supermajority requirement) or by trying to attack the roots of polarization. But this doesn't make any sense. If you're a deficit hawk, it's arguably worse than nothing, as it will make people think something is being done when nothing is actually happening.
Meanwhile, if you want to see what actual deficit reduction would look like, check out Jeff Frankel's 10 ideas for reducing the deficit. What stands between them and passage is not that Congress hasn't been presented with them but that Congress won't pass them.
Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty.
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