What Orszag took from Congress
Matt Bai had a smart piece yesterday arguing that Peter Orszag "promoted and carried out an effort by the White House to pry away from Congress some of the responsibility for making hard decisions, especially when it comes to the budget." As examples, Bai mentions the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which can make substantial reforms of Medicare even in the absence of specific congressional approval, the president's fiscal commission and the modified version of the line-item veto that the Obama administration has proposed.
But this isn't about Orszag himself, or even the Obama administration. Congress passed IPAB into law, thus taking power away from itself. Various members of Congress proposed a fiscal commission ("The inability of the regular legislative process to meaningfully act on this couldn't be clearer," wrote Kent Conrad and Judd Gregg), and when they couldn't pass it over a Republican filibuster, agreed to serve on a fiscal commission housed in the executive branch.
When Congress doesn't work, the result isn't inaction, but non-congressional forms of action. Power is devolved to other actors who don't suffer from the same dysfunctions and impediments. But those actors tend to be less accountable. This is why the Founders designed a Congress capable of taking votes and deciding issues, rather than a Congress with a supermajority requirement that would naturally lead to gridlock. Congress is where decisions were supposed to be made. But a 41-59 filibuster is not the same as a "no" vote. It's not a decision. It's the minority keeping the majority from making a decision. And so the majority often turns that decision over to someone else. Orszag and the Obama administration -- not to mention Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve -- have simply been part of that trend.
Photo credit: Melina Mara/The Washington Post.
July 29, 2010; 10:23 AM ET
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