POLITICS

Deficit Commission Gains Traction In White House

Mar 18, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

A bi-partisan commission that would tame the federal deficit by limiting cost-cutting decisions to a select number of lawmakers is gaining traction in the White House. Congress would be able to vote on the plan put forth by the panel, but no amendments would be made. It's a proposal put forward the Senate Budget Committee's top-ranking Democrat Sen. Kent Conrad (ND) and Republican Sen. Judd Gregg (NH). The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House is pondering its own commission that would be similar, but would grant lawmakers less power:

The idea is to bring Republicans and Democrats together to make tough decisions about how to cut costs or raise revenue in areas including Social Security, Medicare and taxes. For the White House, establishing a commission would show that the Obama administration is serious about tackling the deficit while postponing any real moves until after the 2010 elections.

The federal budget deficit swelled to a post-World War II record of $1.4 trillion in fiscal 2009 and isn't expected to shrink much this year. The White House budget office has already asked each cabinet department, except for defense and veterans affairs, to submit two budgets for fiscal 2011 -- one freezing spending at current levels, the other cutting spending by 5%.

The Economist recently wrote about the deficit commission, and reported the success of a similar commission that was used to restore solvency to Social Security in the early 80's:

A similar commission was set up to restore solvency to Social Security in 1982-83. It succeeded because the problem was imminent, the consequences of failure were unacceptable to both parties, and its members were trusted and pragmatic dealmakers, according to a joint analysis by the Brookings Institution and the Heritage Foundation. Entitlements and tax reform today are a far larger, more amorphous problem, the threat of catastrophe is absent so far, and politics is more polarised. But "the alternative--political paralysis--is far worse," the analysis concluded.

In a blog post about deficit commissions, the magazine suggested that the best way to fight a crisis is to act like you're in a crisis.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is opposed to the idea of a deficit commission because it would take power away from House Committees. She argued against the Senate proposal in an interview with The Hill, saying Congress can accomplish the panel's same goals:

"How we proceed should, I think, have a strong basis in our committees in the Congress," she said. "They are bipartisan, they are elected by the people. They can have public and open hearings on different initiatives in relationship to curtailing the growth of entitlements."