What are we going to do about our mountain-sized, unsustainable debt and the coming budgepocalypse? If you’ve got an answer, get in line. The Washington Post reports that between now and Christmas, three separate groups, including the president’s own deficit commission, are set to release recommendations on how to manage the growing yearly gap between the country’s spending and revenue. Just in time for the holidays!
The key word there is recommendations. Each of the commissions has a slew of budget bigwigs—CEOs, former Congressional Budget Office directors, legislators from both parties, and, on the president’s commission, former SEIU president Andy Stern, who has already promised to armor up and stand guard over the nation’s entitlement spending. The idea, of course, is that everyone (or at least a bunch of major Beltway constituencies) gets a voice. In theory, the unity of the recommendations will provide cover for legislators to make difficult choices—likely some combination of cutting spending and raising taxes. But the problem with having so many different voices is that unity is hard to come by and harder to sustain. So it’s not at all certain that any of the proposals will lead to a significant reordering of the country’s fiscal affairs, or even a baby step in the right direction. Here’s the GOP’s top House budget wonk, Paul Ryan, on the commission’s prospects:
"It's unclear where we're going to go," commission member Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who is in line to chair the House Budget Committee, said on Fox News Sunday. "But I don't think you will see a big grand bargain" to raise taxes, cut entitlement spending and fix the nation's budget problems.
Obama certainly seems less than committed: The president has already reserved the right to completely ignore his commission’s recommendations, or change his debt-reduction goals, or forget about the issue entirely, if he wants. And the entitlement defense brigade has already made clear that they’re ready to do battle over benefit cuts. Meanwhile, many Republicans talk fake-tough about deficit reduction but refuse to even suggest, much less actually fight for, meaningful cuts, particularly in the program with the biggest problems: Medicare. So unless a troop of fiscal-responsibility-obsessed elves stuffs a magical debt-reduction plan in Obama's stocking at Christmas, it's more than likely that by the end of the year, we won't have made any progress toward the adoption of a sustainable fiscal policy.