Gang of Six

I think Jonathan Cohn nails it in his post yesterday:

[W]hile it’s not inconceivable that leaders from the two parties could figure out some way to pass a plan like this, they would need time — and that’s the one thing they do not have now…first we have to get past August 2. And it’s not clear this plan actually makes that easier.

The famous 1986 tax reform bill was a grueling two-year struggle that involved leadership from many quarters, including the White House and Members from both parties and both chambers, all united by a goal of a revenue neutral improvement to the tax code. It involved multiple complex fights over a wide variety of obscure provisions, each of which meant a whole lot to, generally, a small number of people. It was, in all respects, an improbable accomplishment.

And yet we’re not supposed to believe that we can get not only a repeat of that, but also a major restructuring of the budget process, and specific spending cuts, and raise lots of money…all against a backdrop of the various mishegas of the debt limit…and in two weeks.

It’s not going to happen. It’s not going to come close to happening.

If you told me it was going to get done by the end of the year, I’d tell you that you were wildly optimistic.

What could happen is that everyone could decide they would rather have a resolution supporting Gang of Six principles than to actually have deficit reduction (since actual, specific deficit reduction has to include unpopular spending cuts or tax increases). They could even do a bit more; they could put a mechanism into place to turn the principles into legislation, and they could provide favorable parliamentary treatment for that legislation. But they can’t guarantee that a bill would emerge, and they certainly can’t guarantee that it will pass.

They also could peel off a piece of it and pass it now — say, some spending cuts. But the problem with that is that it undermines the whole idea of the grand bargain; if some people get what they want now, they’ll have no incentive to vote for the rest of the package down the road.

Of course, for those who believe that kicking the deficit can down the road is best policy, the Gang of Six approach has a lot going for it. But beyond that, in my view at least it counts on the side of symbolic deficit reduction, rather than actual deficit reduction. Whether that’s enough to get it through the House? I have no idea, but I doubt it.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.