POLITICS
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Insane Deficit Commission Idea Gathers Momentum

The deficits! Your Beltway media is sore afraid of them! But like a family who goes to live in a haunted house only to refuse to move out once the ancient demons that reside in the tool shed reveal themselves and announce their intention to eat their children in allegiance to Satan, they don't do much to account for the grandiose failures in judgment they have made that have sped the way to wrack and ruin.

You don't hear anyone ever talking about "bending the cost curve" of the Afghanistan War. And the idea that the taxpayers, having invested billions propping up a coven of incompetent banks, should receive the same sort of return on investment as a Warren Buffet is treated as if it sprang from the skull of an alien being. In this way, they enable members of Congress, who never take responsibility for the decisions they make that pave the way to potential deficit crises, to go right on making the same sorts of decisions.

And now, via The Hill, comes this:

Senators from both parties on Tuesday put new pressure on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to turn the power to trim entitlement benefits over to an independent commission.

Seven members of the Senate Budget Committee threatened during a Tuesday hearing to withhold their support for critical legislation to raise the debt ceiling if the bill calling for the creation of a bipartisan fiscal reform commission were not attached. Six others had previously made such threats, bringing the total to 13 senators drawing a hard line on the committee legislation.

And here's what the commission would do:

Among its chief responsibilities would be closing the gap between tax revenue coming in and the larger cost of paying for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits. The Government Accountability Office recently reported the gap is on pace to reach an "unsustainable" $63 trillion in 2083.

The panel would also have the power to craft legislation that would change the tax code and set limits on government spending.

The legislation would then be subject to an up-or-down vote; it could not be amended.

In other words, a group of senators have ginned up an idea to outsource their responsibility to some wondrous and new deficit-hawk commission in order to steal entitlement money to pay for their own foolish and profligate spending.

By doing so, they limit their exposure to bad or unpopular legislative decisions, preserving their career longevity while vesting enormous power in a body over whom the American people have no oversight. And to get their way, they'll threaten to basically blow up the government.

Oh, and why are "Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits" in this commission's crosshairs? Well, why try to get our money back from Citigroup when the elderly and the poor have so much more they can give?

The supporters of this crapulence are, not surprisingly, serial crapulence supporters: Senators Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). They've gotten their talking points together, and are happy to repeat them robotically, for reporters:

You rarely do have the leverage to make a fundamental change," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).

[...]

"There are rare moments in this institution when you can implement fundamental change," Bayh said during Tuesday's hearing. "This is one of them."

So does this make Nancy Pelosi, who has "scoffed" at the idea, some sort of debt-hugging monster who wants to destroy the future, for the children? No. She just understands that there's this thing called the legislative process that shouldn't be thrown in the dustbin for the sake of allowing a group of unelected idiots with blue ribbons pinned to their chests to decide funding priorities without any means of holding them accountable for their decisions.

Back in February, The Nation's William Greider warned about the Coming Of The Deficit Commission:

Governing elites in Washington and Wall Street have devised a fiendishly clever "grand bargain" they want President Obama to embrace in the name of "fiscal responsibility." The government, they argue, having spent billions on bailing out the banks, can recover its costs by looting the Social Security system. They are also targeting Medicare and Medicaid. The pitch sounds preposterous to millions of ordinary working people anxious about their economic security and worried about their retirement years. But an impressive armada is lined up to push the idea--Washington's leading think tanks, the prestige media, tax-exempt foundations, skillful propagandists posing as economic experts and a self-righteous billionaire spending his fortune to save the nation from the elderly.

These players are promoting a tricky way to whack Social Security benefits, but to do it behind closed doors so the public cannot see what's happening or figure out which politicians to blame. The essential transaction would amount to misappropriating the trillions in Social Security taxes that workers have paid to finance their retirement benefits. This swindle is portrayed as "fiscal reform." In fact, it's the political equivalent of bait-and-switch fraud.

It's easy to see why lawmakers would cotton to this idea. They made a bunch of stupid decisions, which ran up the deficit. At some point, they're going to have to do something that's potentially difficult or unpopular to fix their mistakes. This puts their precious seats and the flow of sweet, sweet special interest money at risk. So if someone could provide them with a behind-closed-doors cabal that would solve their problems at the expense of the poor and the old, these senators could simply shrug and say, "Sorry, y'all! This is all beyond my control!" And they'll get what they want by throwing a tantrum, and threatening to do something stupid: forcing the Federal government to default on its debt.

Matt Yglesias rightly calls out these lawmakers for their "egomania, self-righteousness, irresponsibility, and cowardice":

Why not throw it back at this crew? Tell the Irresponsible Threat Caucus that instead of asking for a commission, they should just start calling themselves a "budget commission" and then they can specify their own proposed set of tax hikes and Medicare cuts.

Note that Senators Gregg, Bayh, Voinovich, and Sessions didn't have these concerns about the budget when voting to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts to the children of multi-millionaires. And I continue to await congressional support for making the war in Afghanistan deficit neutral.

And by the way, this craven crew isn't above putting the health and welfare of the American people at risk, to get their way:

Conrad signaled that he may likewise have run out of patience with the status quo, suggesting that if Democratic leaders refuse to couple a vote on a bipartisan fiscal task force of some kind with the debt limit increase, he would seek to attach a commission proposal to other crucial legislation.

"There are other vehicles," Conrad said Tuesday, "including healthcare."

It gets harder, with each passing day, to continue to pretend that adults are running this country. But you'd never know this from reading about them in the traditional media!

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