The right’s vision of a budget-deficit commission

THE RIGHT’S VISION OF A BUDGET-DEFICIT COMMISSION…. If the federal government is eventually going to address the budget deficit, policymakers are going to have to a) bring in more money; b) spend less money; or c) some combination of the two. There are no other choices.

I’m unimpressed with the idea of some kind of bipartisan budget commission, but the underlying goal is not entirely ridiculous. The commission would ostensibly create the conditions for some kind of grand bargain — Democrats would have to accept spending cuts they would otherwise oppose, and Republicans would accept tax increases they would otherwise oppose. Spread the pain around and everyone gets some political cover.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal‘s right-wing editorial page said it would welcome a budget-deficit commission, just so long as participants agreed in advance that taxes wouldn’t go up so much as a penny for anyone.

This absurd recommendation seems to be catching on with several far-right voices. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), an aggressive right-wing attack dog, endorsed the WSJ angle, saying that the commission would be worthwhile if tax increases were taken off the table altogether. Soon after, uber-activist Grover Norquist touted McHenry’s approach, calling it the “grown-up” way to address the problem.

Pat Garofalo highlighted why this “child-like” recommendation is nonsensical.

[H]ow, exactly, does taking taxes off the table from the outset represent a “grown-up” way to make “hard choices”? The whole premise behind a commission is that it will be empowered to make politically unpalatable suggestions (like raise taxes) that Congress wouldn’t normally touch. […]

Getting deficits under control on the spending side alone is economically impossible. Exempting interest on the debt, Social Security, Medicare, and defense spending (which Republicans never agree to cut), “the rest of the budget needs to be cut by 51 percent to have a balanced budget in 2014.” So the numbers just don’t add up.

Republicans’ numbers rarely do.

That said, Kevin Drum had a creative response to the WSJ/McHenry/Norquist suggestion: call their bluff.

[L]et McHenry have his commission, make sure it’s well stocked with Republicans, force them to put down on paper just exactly what spending programs they want to gut, and then put it to an up-or-down vote in Congress. We liberals are always demanding that Republican “fiscal conservatives” should tell us just what spending they want to get rid of, and now here’s McHenry volunteering to commit political hara-kiri by setting it all down in a nice, official report and then forcing Republicans to put their votes where their mouths are. That would be great.

Good point.