Obama Is Right To Be ‘Agnostic’ About Proposals From His Deficit Commission

ObamaIn the same Bloomberg BusinessWeek interview in which he compared Wall Street bonuses to extravagant professional baseball salaries, President Obama said that he wants his proposed fiscal commission — which would be charged with determining ways to reduce long-term deficits — to consider all options, adding that he wants to be “completely agnostic” regarding what it considers:

“The whole point of it is to make sure that all ideas are on the table,” the president said…“So what I want to do is to be completely agnostic, in terms of solutions”…“What I can’t do is to set the thing up where a whole bunch of things are off the table,” Obama said. “Some would say we can’t look at entitlements. There are going to be some that say we can’t look at taxes, and pretty soon, you just can’t solve the problem.”

This has led to predictable crows of victory from the right-wing, which is taking Obama’s statement as an admission that he is backtracking on his campaign pledge not to raise taxes for any household making less than $250,000 per year. “I’m sure you remember this pledge, and how there were no hedges, no exceptions, no ‘maybes’ in his promise on the campaign trail,” wrote the National Review’s Jim Geraghty.

As far as critiques go, this is pretty weak sauce. For one thing, the budget that the administration submitted earlier this month kept tax rates steady for the middle class, just as Obama promised. So it’s not like his legislative proposals aren’t reflecting his pledge.

What Obama is really doing is refusing to engage in the fantasy-land approach to deficits that the right-wing has been pushing. Ever since the creation of a deficit commission became a distinct possibility, conservatives have been advocating that the commission be explicitly barred from considering tax increases of any kind. Seven Republican senators who co-sponsored the Conrad-Gregg legislation to create a commission wound up voting against it because they decided at the last second that they wanted a commission that would only consider spending.

Counting on a commission to come up with ways to address the deficit is an already dubious way to cope with the problem, as it simply inserts more veto points into a dysfunctional congressional process. To rule something off the table before the process even begins makes it that much harder. As Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) put it, “the point here is that neither side is going to come to the table on this unless everybody is at the table. If I say no taxes on the table, why would anybody on the other side come to the table?”

And the simple point remains: long-term deficits can’t be fixed on the spending side alone. Dealing with long-term health care costs, as well as finding ways to raise revenue, have to be part of the solution. It seems to me that Obama understands and simply doesn’t want to undercut the work of the commission before it even begins.