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The deficit commission cometh

I'm not opposed to a deficit commission, but making a major push to announce it the morning after Scott Brown's election seems like a pretty good way to further demoralize the liberal base.

Faced with growing alarm over the nation's soaring debt, the White House and congressional Democrats tentatively agreed Tuesday to create an independent budget commission and to put its recommendations for fiscal solvency to a vote in Congress by the end of this year.

Under the agreement, President Obama would issue an executive order to create an 18-member panel that would be granted broad authority to propose changes in the tax code and in the massive federal entitlement programs -- including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- that threaten to drive the nation's debt to levels not seen since World War II.

If I'm reading this right, the plan is to force Congress to take a vote on a package of tax increases and cuts in entitlements spending by the end of the year? I guess that might mean after the election, but if it doesn't, well, good luck with that.

On the other hand, I wouldn't worry too much about anything coming from this. Judd Gregg, the Senate Republican who actually supports a bipartisan deficit commission, is calling this "a fraud." And without Republican support, it isn't going anywhere.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 20, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Budget  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Obama at year one: The end of the inside game
Next: The difference between Democrats and Republicans


They never treat the bloated, incompetent, un-needed military as the rotten entitlement it is. And so all this kind of thing does is attack the politically powerless. Thanks Democrats.

Posted by: janinsanfran | January 20, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

This is an opportunity for both parties to eliminate programs that most politicians know are bad but no one has the courage to do it. The mortgage interest exemption for example, is inequitable and should be eliminated -- now is the time to phase it out.

The employer exemption for health care is bad and could be transferred to individuals. That would raise revenue from companies and leave individuals with untaxed benefits.

There are many such opportunities and yet, all Congress can do is find more ways to spend money that we don't have.

Posted by: Athena_news | January 20, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Can you attend and blog on seminar tomorrow at the National Press Club -- Beyond the Bad Economy: Jobs, Retirement, Health, and Social Insurance

Your colleague, Steven Pearlstein is the keynote speaker.

Event details --

And take Lori Montgomery with you to the luncheon debate, "12:30 p.m. Luncheon Debate: How Should We Think About the Public Debt?" on the off-chance that it would inform her writing about the public debt.

The debate is advertised as "A point-counterpoint debate that will examine the benefits as well as liabilities of the growing
public debt for the nation and its households."

Lisa Mensah, Initiative on Financial Security of the Aspen Institute (Moderator)
Bradford DeLong, University of California, Berkeley
Maya MacGuineas, The New America Foundation

Posted by: grooft | January 20, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Ezra, the headline on that piece is REALLY chosen to psssoff the Democrats. Following an election where the angry voter is upset about backroom deals the editors put "Democrats cut deal to form debt watchdog".

Hopefully, this really is just a "fraud" as Senator Judd Gregg (retiring 2010 R-NH) says.

Posted by: grooft | January 20, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Ezra, the panel proposed by the White House would defeat the purpose of the Conrad-Gregg bill which is to create bi-partisan fiscal discipline that won't as subject to political pressure. I agree with Gregg. Obama's deal gives too much power to the executive branch.

That being said, I agree the measure is DOA. Congressional leaders will not give up the power they derive from spending our money. Too bad for the country.

Posted by: bobsteph1234 | January 20, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

"On the other hand, I wouldn't worry too much about anything coming from this. Judd Gregg, the Senate Republican who actually supports a bipartisan deficit commission, is calling this "a fraud." "

Ezra you got this exactly backwards, it it Conrad-Gregg that is a fraud, it and Cooper-Wolf are nothing more than vehicles Peter G Peterson and his various front groups: Concord, PGPG, Peterson-Pew Commission, Brookings-Heritage Fiscal Seminar, the original attempt to hijack the Fiscal Responsibility Summit.

The game is rigged by design and if it looks familiar is it is the same structure as Bush's attempt at Social Security. It is a seven step process:
1) Get consensus on debt/deficit crisis going forward
2) Agree that there are only three major categories of fix: (A) raise taxes, (B) cut discretionary and particularly military spending, or (C) three slash entitlements including Social Security
3) Establish Commission with noise that A, B, and C are on the table.
4) Commission Repulicans declare no tax increase in a recession (and do you really think 4 out of 8 R's would actually vote for one). Commission Republcians declare that you can't cut military spending during two wars.
5) With Admin buy-in the Commissioon crafts a proposal entirely made up of cuts to Social Programs and entitlements
6) Arguing that nothing in not an option, they pick up 4 of 8 Dem votes and send it to Congress
7) Congress being told the statute does not allow them to revisit taxes or military spending either votes the cuts in and runs for the next election cast as simply in denial of the crisis they admitted to in 1) and 2)

The original Conrad-Gregg was worse, although it was bi-partisan in the sense of 8 Dems and 8 Reps two of the former spots were relegated to the Admin. If we assumed that Conrad and Cooper would both be natural members of the Commission, that proposal would have 12 votes for cutting back the Great Society on its way in the door: ( R's, Cooper, Conrad, and the Admin). Conrad and Gregg were forced to change this by adding two more Dems after people figured out what was happening but I can't believe you gave any credence to this shell game to start with.

I belong to a group that includes your old boss Bob Kuttner, Dean Baker, Roger Hickey, and Nancy Altman, any of whom would be happy to show you exactly what a sham Conrad-Gregg is.

Posted by: BruceWebb | January 20, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

If this has any meaning at all, why on earth should it demoralize the base? As so many have pointed out, the commission will be toothless. Yet it allows the Democrats to pretend they're doing something about the deficit, which people seem irrationally concerned about in a major recession, and then go on doing something important, like pass jobs legislation.

It strikes me as very cynical. Cynicism in the service of important social goals is a welcome thing in my book.

Posted by: robbins2 | January 20, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

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