Huffpost Politics
Jason Linkins Headshot

White House Considers Punting Deficit Problem To 'Bipartisan' Commission

Posted: Updated:

CNN reports today that President Barack Obama is now "seriously considering" using an executive order to spur the creation of that high-toned monument to buck-passing, the blue-ribbon commission on deficit hawkery.

Documents obtained by CNN show that top advisers to the President have been privately weighing various versions of a commission and there are differing opinions about how to structure it. Officials say that some inside the administration are pushing for a narrow mandate because it's too complicated to tackle reform of the tax system and various popular federal spending programs all at once.

"Each major category of fiscal policy - Social Security, Medicare, discretionary spending, revenues - raises a complex and idiosyncratic array of policy problems and prescriptions," according to the documents detailing some of the administration's deliberations. "Achieving consensus on any one of these issues - much less all of them simultaneously - may be more than the political system can reasonably accommodate."

But officials told CNN that other advisers to the president are pushing for the commission to have a broad mandate to put all of these big issues "on the table" at the same time.

Two things seem to be driving the urgency. First, there's "heavy pressure" from Senators Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who recently outlined how such a commission would be structured. Second, there's this "group of moderates" who are threatening to block the raising of the Federal debt ceiling unless they get their way.

As I've pointed out before, the scintillating uselessness of this commission becomes readily apparent when you examine how Conrad and Gregg would structure it. The proposal is for an 18-member commission, with 16 members coming from Congress -- split evenly by party -- and two members coming from the administration. That commission would need to get 14 members -- out of the 18! -- to agree to pass any recommendation to Congress. That makes getting 60 votes out of 100 look easy. Indeed, anyone who's paid any attention at all to how Congress has worked over the past decade knows that these are the essential ingredients of guaranteed gridlock.

Now we get to the part where Ed Henry gives both sides of the issue equal weight, and calls it a day:

While some critics charge a commission would be a cop-out because it would punt congressional decisions to an outside panel, the senators pushing the plan say the current system is broken, and that it will take a new mechanism to enact the wrenching changes that will be needed to get the budget back into balance.

I honestly cannot see how anyone could credibly argue that this commission isn't literally a cop-out. There is nothing in the wide world preventing Barack Obama or Judd Gregg or Kent Conrad from outlining a series of targeted cuts to entitlement programs right this very minute, if that's what they really feel needs to be done. It might hurt them politically -- or not -- but that's the job: building the case for tough choices and taking the lumps that comes along with them. It's not the system that's at fault, it's the actors. And now, the White House looks like it's joining up with the responsibility-dodgers, so they too can earn a share of that sweet, sweet political cover.

Or maybe the whole point of this commission is that these useless policymakers will look better compared to a commission that is even more useless.

RELATED:
CNN Exclusive: Obama weighs ordering new debt commission [CNN Political Ticker]
The Exquisite Pointlessness of the Conrad/Gregg Commission Proposal [Matt Yglesias]
The Deficit Commission Bill Is Here, And It's Insane [Jon Chait @ The Plank]
Senate Centrist Hero Will Solve Fiscal Crisis With Endless Deadlock [Gawker]

PREVIOUSLY, on the HUFFINGTON POST:
Insane Deficit Commission Idea Gathers Momentum
Deficit Commission Proposal Designed As A Horrorshow Of Legislative Dysfunction

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not? Also, please send tips to tv@huffingtonpost.com -- learn more about our media monitoring project here.]

Around the Web

The Deficit Commission Bill Is Here, And It's Insane - Kent Conrad ...

Democrats Push for Plan to Cut Deficit - NYTimes.com

Insane Deficit Commission Idea Gathers Momentum

Deficit Commission Proposal Designed As A Horrorshow Of ...

Deseret News | A deficit commission?

We Need Jobs, Not A Deficit Commission | OurFuture.org

Panel unveils deficit commission bill (12/9/09) -- GovExec.com

Bayh wants deficit commission for vote to raise debt ceiling - The ...

America Does Not Need an Undemocratic "Deficit Commission ...

Senators Get in Motion Deficit-Cutting Panel - The Caucus Blog ...

The Deficit Commission Bill Is Here, And It's Insane - Kent Conrad ...

Democrats Push for Plan to Cut Deficit - NYTimes.com

We Need Jobs, Not A Deficit Commission | OurFuture.org

Panel unveils deficit commission bill (12/9/09) -- GovExec.com

Bayh wants deficit commission for vote to raise debt ceiling - The ...

Senators Get in Motion Deficit-Cutting Panel - The Caucus Blog ...