The Debt Commission established by President Obama to recommend ways to reduce the federal deficit has begun its discussions and deliberations. Its first meeting produced the expected round of sound bites. Erskine Bowles, one of the chairs, said the federal debt is “like a cancer” that would “destroy our country from within.” Fed Chair Ben Bernanke said the federal budget is on an “unsustainable path.” And, with the Commission’s discussions taking place against the backdrop of plummeting credit ratings for EU countries like Greece, Portugal, and now Spain, the debt reduction effort in America should have a special urgency.
So why does the concept of a Debt Commission leave me cold? Because I think the Debt Commission is just another exercise in deception.
Recently, we have seen what Congress can do when it tries. I agree with at least one part of Richard’s recent post — if you are going to control Congress, at least try to do something with that control while it lasts. The dogged Democratic efforts to pass the “health care reform” legislation shows what Congress and the Administration can accomplish when they are fully committed to doing so — even though, in that case, I strongly disagreed with the solution. If Congress has the will to enact a bill that is thousands of pages long, that regulates and restructures an enormous and extraordinarily complex slice of our economy, surely Congress could substantially reduce the deficit through a similar effort. What the Debt Commission really tells us is that Congress doesn’t have the stomach for that deficit reduction effort.
Sure, we’ll hear the sound bites from the unelected, ultimately powerless people on the Debt Commission . . . and it will avail us naught. Congress likes to giveth — a subsidized health benefit here, a new consumer financial regulatory agency there — but doesn’t like to taketh away. Until circumstances force Congress’ hand, deficit reduction will always be on the back burner.