The fiscal commission appears to have wasted its time

THE FISCAL COMMISSION APPEARS TO HAVE WASTED ITS TIME…. Following up on an earlier item, the White House’s “National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform” has released a plan from its chairmen on how to balance the budget. At its core, that’s pretty much all it is — a report from former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson (R) on their vision for fiscal reform.

But those worried that the fiscal commission might actually present a plan that does real damage can relax. No one could possibly vote for any of this. Megan Carpentier’s summary was a good one:

Their recommendations are more or less a list of the third-rail issues of American politics, including cuts in the number of federal workers; increasing the costs of participating in veterans and military health care systems; increasing the age of Social Security eligibility; and major cuts in defense and foreign policy spending. They also encompass a range of tax system reforms that have been floated by many in Washington for years to little effect, including reducing tax rates by eliminating many beloved credits and deductions.

The top-line changes are likely to get the most attention, including Medicare cuts and undermining Social Security.

But some of the other provisions in the chairmen’s plan are just head-shaking recommendations, pointing to things that simply won’t happen. Some of my favorites — and by “favorites,” I mean ideas that I found astounding, not ideas I actually approve of — include the elimination of hundreds of thousands of federal workers, the elimination of subsidized student loans, new costs imposed on veterans for their health care, cutting schools on military bases, and new entrance fees at the Smithsonian.

Sorry, you freeloading school kids.

And to think, 14 out of 18 commission members weren’t ready to endorse this. Imagine that.

Also keep in mind, the cuts could be less severe in the Simpson/Bowles model if only they cut taxes less. But this plan calls for dropping the top marginal rate to just 23%. Under Clinton, it was 39.6%. Under George W. Bush, it was 35%.

I’ve seen some suggestions that the report, such as it is, should be considered “controversial.” But that’s not quite right. It’s better to call this what it is: hopelessly irrelevant.

Indeed, I suspect in a couple of months, this commission will have been almost entirely forgotten, mentioned only as a point of ridicule for what not to do.

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