The Big Question: How can the deficit panel make their work count?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer their insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.





Today's question:


What could President Barack Obama's deficit commission do to have a strong effect on policy-makers?



Brad Delong, professor of Economics at the UC Berkley, said:

If Congressional Republicans don't name anybody to it, it won't.


Michelle D. Bernard, president & CEO of the Independent Women's Forum, said:

Nothing. There is absolutely nothing that any deficit commission can do to encourage the spending-addicted Congress to do their jobs and actually reduce outlays to bring the budget into balance. The soon to-be-retired because nothing works in Congress Evan Bayh and Senator John McCain were on the right path in proposing The Fiscal Freeze Act of 2010 which would include a spending freeze and  earmark moratorium until the federal budget is balanced; make the President’s proposed freeze on non-security discretionary funding law, create a line item veto that passes constitutional muster so that the President can “weed out wasteful spending items”, and give the annual Congressional budget resolution the force of law.” http://senatus.wordpress.com/?s=fiscal+freeze+act+of+2010 . Only Congress can do this, not a powerless, unelected deficit commission. In the short-term, it is going to be up to the President to show that it's time to get serious about spending and veto bills that include unnecessary spending and waste.

Ultimately, only voters will be able to force their elected representatives to radically alter the government’s spending habits to bring down long-term deficits. We have seen it happen in NJ, where Gov. Christie campaigned on the need to slash state spending; voters elected him and now he is making good on his promise with a spending freeze and by offering major cuts that would fundamentally change the state. http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/02/nj_gov_chris_christies_spendin.html If the public wants responsible budgets, they'll have to make it the number one issue in the next election and vote only for who are truly committed to reducing the size of government.


Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, said:

If the commission could persuade the senators who used to be for this commission to reduce the deficit, that could work. That is, there were senators who were for deficit reduction until they had to commit, then they were against it.

It would also help if the press presented this clearly.


Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said:

Resign and acknowledge that it was a silly propaganda ploy. This would save the public money and allow the public to focus on real issues like unemployment, healthcare costs and global warming.


Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit Blogger, said:

They could resign in protest. The blue-ribbon commission is a time-honored method for politicians to dodge responsibility and delay action. If the Obama administration, and Congress, want to reduce the deficit, they could simply stop spending as much. Simply announcing that unspent stimulus money will remain unspent would be a huge start. A freeze on entitlements would be another. These are entirely within their power; they just don't want to take responsibility. The deficit commission is a transparent effort to put action off beyond the midterms, and I suspect that voters will see it for what it is.



John F. McManus, president of The John Birch Society, said:

The new deficit commission would do the country a big favor if it would put out a statement saying that there's nothing more needed than a huge cutback in spending, and a determined program to begin paying off the national debt. It should then recommended to the American people that, when they go to the polls, they send only men and women who realize the horrendous predicament the nation is now in and who plan to do what is so sorely needed.
 
After doing this, the deficit commission personnel should resign.  Who needs a commission to discover that the nation is in a fiscal crisis? 



Damon N. Spiegel,
entrepreneur and writer, said:

This disenfranchised commission is just one more masterful illusion concocted to mislead public sentiment into having faith in this irresponsible administration. In reality, it’s a frightfully familiar waste of taxpayer dollars. A series of uninspiring solutions will be written in a plain report that gets watered down to the point at which it isn’t even drinkable. Democrats and Republicans won’t come to a consensus because they're much more interested in clinging to their seats instead of nobly serving their country.

The Obama Administration is spending money at an incomprehensible rate, endlessly adding to a deficit that is going to create a chillingly horrific liquidity issue for our innocent children. We all know the question is: when will this administration put its shameless self-interests behind the interests of 300 million people and our nation? Regrettably, I doubt it will be next election year.


Justin Raimondo, editorial director Antiwar.com, said:

The commission could point out that we're headed for national bankruptcy -- unless we rein in our "defense" budget, which totals more than all the military outlays of all the other countries in the world combined.

The commission could point out that our entitlements alone will bankrupt us: that we consume far more than we produce -- and that this cannot go on indefinitely (or even much longer).

These revelations would certainly have a strong effect on policymakers, if only to make them pause, for a moment, and come up with new rationales for their free-spending ways. Of course, no such statements will ever come from a deficit commission, or any commission, launched in Washington. But I can dream, can't I?


Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said:

 If Barack Obama or Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi wished to reduce deficit spending they could reduce spending by a simple majority vote of both houses.  They didn’t have to increase the budget by one trillion dollars over the next ten years.  They did last year.  They could eliminate that.  One trillion saved.  They could end the TARP bailouts and leave any money paid back with the Treasury.  They could stop pushing to spend an additional trillion on energy subsidies and an addition two or three trillion on government health care.  They could end the stimulus spending now.

But Obama/Reid/Pelosi have no intention of stopping their spending spree.
 
The point of any commission is to confuse dimwitted members of the press as to what they are doing and hope to entice dimmer-witted republicans in joining in with the Democrats to raise taxes to pay for all this new and additional spending.

Mostly, the commission is designed to allow Democrat members of congress with red ink all over their voting fingers to have a paragraph in any speech feigning interest in budget restraint.  Any voter falling for that should have is high school diploma revoked.


A.B. Stoddard, associate editor and columnist at The Hill, said:

The U.S. Congress blew its chance to come together on a statutory commission, meaning one that would require an up-or-down vote from Congress on its recommendations, because partisanship and politics, as usual, stood in the way.
 
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who had not only supported a commission but had co-sponsored the bill to create one, changed his mind along with several of his GOP colleagues who had supported it and joined them in voting to block it. Why? Because conservatives made it a litmus test, arguing the commission was a political ploy by Democrats to look strong on fiscal matters while planning to use a commission to raise taxes. Conservatives want tax increases off the table in any discussion of reducing debt and deficits; no matter that the Bush tax cuts helped create them. When Chuck Todd asked Grover Norquist, head of the National Taxpayers Union and an influential conservative, last week on MSNBC if he could have endorsed McCain in his primary against former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) if McCain had supported the commission, Norquist said no, he could not have.
 
As the economy begins to stabilize and improve, our biggest crisis on the table — mitigating our deficits and debt and reducing our dependence on China — will require the kind of cooperation we haven't witnessed in Washington in many, many years. Deficits of $1 trillion are the new normal. The recession has starved the government of revenue, with fewer tax receipts coming in and more safety-net spending going out. In just four years the interest on our debt will exceed the budget for annual appropriations for domestic spending. Four years. Foreigners own more than half of our public debt, and China is our biggest banker of all.

Where, in this nightmare scenario, do you find members of Congress trying to work out a path to solvency? Nowhere. I respect President Obama for choosing two statesmen to head up his executive commission, former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and Erskine Bowles of North Carolina who, while serving as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, helped broker the balanced-budget agreement of 1997. I have tremendous respect for Simpson, legendary for his honesty and sense of humor, who on Tuesday weighed in on the paralysis he sees gripping the Congress: "There isn't a single sitting member of Congress — not one — that doesn't know exactly where we're headed," he told The New York Times. "And to use the politics of fear and division and hate on each other — we are at a point right now where it doesn't make a damn whether you're a Democrat or a Republican if you've forgotten you're an American."
 
But I respectfully disagree that the commission will change our fiscal picture, because I respectfully doubt that the Congress will act on its findings.