Sit down, honey, let's kill some time
By Dylan Matthews
I'm really curious as to why David Brooks thinks his deficit reduction process will work:
Now some people think their elected officials are so rotten that only an unelected commission can save us. Snobs. The history of commissions is the history of failure. Stuart M. Butler of the Heritage Foundation and Henry J. Aaron of the Brookings Institution argue compellingly that it is simply impossible in a democracy to rewrite the social contract without popular consent. Commissions are fine, but they have to be embedded in a broader democratic process.
The way to do that is to break free from the polarized committee structure. Invite a dozen handpicked senators and House members and stick them in a room three times a week for six months.
After they’ve come up with a debt-reduction plan, have them send it up in secret to the presidential deficit commission, which President Obama was smart enough to create.
In some ways, this reminds me of John McCain's infamous proposal for brokering peace in Iraq: "sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, 'Stop the [expletive].' " Does Brooks really think the reason, say, Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley can't agree on deficit reduction matters is reflective of the fact that they haven't sat down together and talk about these things enough? Is it possible that these things are intractable because there is serious disagreement about what the government's priorities ought to be? The secrecy of the committee wouldn't help; whatever it proposes would eventually have to come up for a vote, and its members would obviously take political plausibility into account when formulating their proposal, rather than simply creating the ideal plan that Good Politicians would think up free of political constraints. There's no reason to think the final product would be any less messy and full of compromises than a bill created through normal legislative procedures.
What's more, there's something great about a proposal for making deficit commissions more democratic that relies on a secret panel making major policy decisions out of public view. Democratic accountability must mean something very different to Brooks than it does to most people.
-- Dylan Matthews is a student at Harvard and a researcher at The Washington Post.
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