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The little commission that couldn't, cont'd.

Somewhat surprisingly, a bipartisan coalition of senators rejected the proposed budget commission yesterday. A little while before they did that, Max Baucus got a 97 to 0 vote taking changes to Social Security off the table. There's talk today that President Obama might form one through an executive order, though it's hard to imagine that Congress is going to be a friendly place for the difficult recommendations of a commission it already dismissed.

Whatever you think of the bipartisan commission, I'd advise you to keep its fate in mind when thinking about the spending freeze. Like the bipartisan commission, the spending freeze is a deficit-reduction tool proposed by the Obama administration. Like the bipartisan commission, it's something that a lot of legislators and voters support instinctively. And like the bipartisan commission, it's going to get a lot less popular when people have to begin voting for cuts and goring constituencies and letting their favorite programs starve.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 27, 2010; 2:41 PM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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It would appear that the only thing that is popular right now is a promise of both guns and butter.

Or a smaller deficit and tax cuts.

Or fairy wings and pots of gold.

We're screwed. As long as there is not a supermajority of adults in the capitol, all bets for reality-based governance are off.

I hate being this cynical. But I feel driven to it by a nihilist right, a totally economically inept left, and utterly careerist "centrist" in Congress.

Posted by: RalfW | January 27, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse


what legislators should have the stomach to do (and term limits would help make this easier) is to remind their consitutents if they complain that they're still working to perfect that money growing tree and until then we'll either have to pay more taxes or get less services.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 27, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Six Republican co-sponsors of the bipartisan commission bill voted against it. McCain said he realized at the last minute that it might recommend raising a tax or two. I think that was Brownback's excuse as well. These people are irresponsible to the point it is turning criminal.

Posted by: flounder2 | January 27, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse


its kind of like how progressives are threatening those House members that sign the house healthcare bill without a public option via reconciliation with primary opponents. Sure let the 45,000 per year die they'll tell you (oh wait, no they won't. If you'll notice McCain has a primary opponent who is fairly well know. The far right and the far left are destroying this country and only one thing can save it. Term limits.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 27, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Visionbrkr: Term limits don't help. We've had them for years here in California, home of the unfunded budget.

What we need is a less selfish citizenry. People seem to think that taxes are bad unless they fund a service that the taxpayer him or herself directly uses. They do not want to pay to educate other people's children, even though they may want to employ them in the future or rely on their earnings to fund their Social Security payments, nor do they want to pay to make other people healthy, even though it benefits the whole society in the longer run through reduced absenteeism, greater productivity and slower spread of epidemics.

But I agree we need more adults.

Posted by: Mimikatz | January 27, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse


you know i don't think taxes are bad but when we're taxed to the point where it doesn't make sense to work anymore then its gone a little too far (IMO). NJ is one of the highest taxed states in the nation and then you add in federal, payroll, property its really kind of disgusting (especially if you go down to welfare lines and see people on their i-phones). Sorry as a business owner its MORE than a little disheartening to know that the system gets abused like that. Sorry but you can't talk about one side without the other that sometimes abuses it. I'd be fine with public assistance if I was at all confident that the system wasn't over-run with abuses but it is.

oh look NJ's #1!!!!!

oh look property taxes, we're #1 again!!!!

Sure we have some nice programs like constans says but somehow I'm doubting we get the bang for our buck that is what we put in.

Really, slower spread of epidemics? Like the H1N1 vaccine that took a year to get out to people? That's not something you really want to tout as a great government program.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 27, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm... Social Security is off the table, check.

Maybe we can find the money in Medicare? The idea of cutting Medicare has been demagogued to death. I'd imagine cuts to it would be off the table too.

Okay, perhaps we could cut Medicaid. Then again, we've been hearing how providers are grossly underpaid and don't want Medicaid patients, and in any case the Democrats have been pushing a bill which increases Medicaid spending. No chance they'd suddenly go for a bill which decreases it, would they? Probably not.

What about the military? Well, that would probably be easier if we weren't still committed to two ongoing wars. Or if we didn't have a horse trading SecDef who can actually kill hard-to-kill programs (F-22) but then spends the savings on another program which is even more overkill (F-35 - we're buyin' 2,500 of 'em!) Oh, and its bad politics to cut military spending. Okay, probably not a lot here.

Can't cut interest payments...

Maybe we could increase taxes by 4% of GDP in the medium term and by 7%-8% (and probably more) in the long-run? Per Bruce Bartlett, a 3% VAT rate raises about 1% of GDP in revenue, so we'll start with a 12% VAT and then go up to a 24% VAT over time. Oh, but then the bill would fall on working families! That's right! Families! That work! Can't possibly ask them to pitch in. Phew, I almost forgot, we can always get our money from the rich. But no - raising 8% of GDP from the rich doesn't work, because you'd have to take pretty much ALL of their money, and when you do that suddenly all of the rich people are gone. Okay, so much for raising taxes to solve the problem.

I've got it! We cut the Bureau of Labor Statistics (the guys who calculate the unemployment rate and the CPI), and direct the Fed to start printing money Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe style! We save a few cents, and there is no official unemployment or inflation number for newspapers to report when things really fall apart.

In summary: Epic fail.

Posted by: justin84 | January 27, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: HalHorvath | January 27, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

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