03/28/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Dana Milbank Doesn't Seem To Understand How Ineffective The Deficit Commission Will Be

If you're looking for evidence that the Beltway wisdom on the proposed blue-ribbon deficit commission is entrenched in pure ass-backwardness, there's no better source than Dana Milbank's column on the subject, a piece of overheated nonsense that pretends that the Senate is poised to choose between "responsible governance and ideological warfare."

Oh, spare me. Here's the essential moment of getting-it-perfectly-wrong:

Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Budget Committee, tried to get beyond this congressional inertia by proposing a statutory commission whose recommendations would be guaranteed an up-or-down vote. Lawmakers, they reasoned, had proved they couldn't make the tough choices on their own.

Milbank makes it sound like the proposed commission is intended as a means of bypassing the tendency of lawmakers to avoid "tough choices." In actuality, the commission would serve to reinforce this tendency, not alleviate it. Its whole purpose is to allow lawmakers to pretend to be serious about cutting deficits, while immunizing them from any voter backlash for having to make "tough choices." This commission, in reality, represents the worst tendencies of lawmakers run amok.

And far from "getting beyond Congressional inertia," the commission actually creates new obstacles to enacting budgetary cuts. The commission, as proposed by Gregg and Conrad, requires 14 of its 18 members to agree on any proposal. Beyond that impossibility, Conrad and Gregg envision that the commission's proposals will require supermajorities in both the House and Senate to pass into law.

I find it hard to believe that anyone thinks Congressional inertia can be alleviated by placing new obstacles in the way of enacting budget cuts. As Jonathan Chait put it: "To say that this... 'is designed to get results' shows a very odd understanding of American political institutions."

What seems especially silly about Milbank's take, is that he seems perfectly unaware that, if the Conrad/Gregg proposal goes down in the Senate, President Barack Obama is poised to bring about this bizarre commission via executive order. In that event, the only distinction would be cosmetic: where Conrad and Gregg propose a commission that includes eight Republican members of Congress, eight Democratic members of Congress and two White House appointees, the Obama proposal calls for six Republican members of Congress, six Democratic members of Congress and six White House appointees -- of which, two would be Republican.

So, in any event, ten Democrats and eight Republicans, all facing the same insurmountable hurdles -- so, really, no one facing a choice between "responsible governance and ideological warfare." Rather, we are facing a choice between one ineffective deficit commission and another ineffective deficit commission.

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