Defeating the Deficit


From 2003 to 2005, economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin served as the sixth director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, where he developed a reputation as a sober-minded fiscal analyst. Since then, Holtz-Eakin has worked for a number of think tanks around Washington; and is currently president of the American Action Forum, a pro-market policy institute. Not long after President Barack Obama established an 18- member bipartisan commission to reduce the deficit, Holtz-Eakin told us three reasons why the effort is unlikely to accomplish its goals.

Presidential commissions never work. George Washington appointed the first commission to negotiate the end of the Whiskey Rebellion. It failed.

The commission was never intended to work. The Obama administration's budget is a road map to a sovereign debt crisis and the downgrading of the U.S. as a borrower. Democrats in Congress have no plans to pass a budget. The commission was invented—with a post-election reporting date—to provide a fig leaf from now until the election.

If the commission works, it still won't work. Suppose lightning strikes, Tom Coburn hugs Andy Stern, Jeb Hensarling harmonizes "Kumbaya" with Jan Schakowsky, and 14 of the commission's 18 members agree on how to balance the budget by 2015. How does the plan get through Congress? Will leadership permit a vote on a dramatic policy shift in a lame-duck session? Will the 112th Congress care about a plan endorsed by at most 12 members from the 111th?