Deficit Commission: Tinkering Around the Edges

It seems to me the last time the GOP took over Congress the debate between Republicans and President Clinton over the deficit was whether the budget could be balanced in five, seven, eight, or ten years. Now we are talking about a full 27 years before balancing the budget!

The most immediate question springing to mind is just where there could be compromise on this package, or whether a final version of the report will actually see the light of day -- it takes a 14-person supermajority of the 18 members of the commission to approve the report, with the membership being selected by President Obama and congressional leaders of both parties. Quite possibly this release may have occurred due to the prospect of gridlock on the commission, which was created by an executive order back in February when the Senate balked at passing their own version due to partisan rancor.

Even more curious is the timing. The original report was due December 1, but with a lame-duck session of Congress beginning next week perhaps the aim was to give exiting Democrats, especially the now-endangered species of “Blue Dogs,” a blueprint to enact the entitlement fixes in order to use them to campaign against Republicans in 2012. Obviously Republicans will gravitate toward items they'd prefer to see, like tax reform, once their majority arrives in January.

And there are a lot of cuts left off the table in the report. Conservatives have wanted to see the Department of Education lopped off the federal budget along with smaller cuts such as National Public Radio, the National Endowment for the Arts, and various green energy-related subsidies. In fairness, these smaller items may come under a catchall category of “options of $2 billion or less” as part of the $100 billion in domestic spending cuts, but many will see this a barely a first step.

However, the end result of this commission will likely be the same as the output of many other panels, think tanks, and small group musings done over the years. Inside of a year or two it will likely be collecting dust on a shelf somewhere in the bowels of Washington as Congress continues its spendthrift ways, figuring out methods to postpone the day of reckoning even further.

While there are some good ideas enclosed within the pages of the deficit commission's report, to me it doesn't exactly exhibit the kind of outside-the-box thinking our nation needs to address the problem. Perhaps it's because there was no room for average Americans on the panel; instead the issue is addressed by many of the same people who got us into the mess in the first place.

It's the definition of insanity to do the same thing over and over again while expecting a new result. But insanity is seemingly all Washington knows, and chances are the best solutions in the commission's report will be the ones passed over.