Making a Budget Commission Work

Evan Bayh has an idea for a budget commission: “our bipartisan panel would put all options on the table, including spending cuts and revenue raisers. Congress would then be compelled by law to debate the recommendations and take an up-or-down vote on the entire plan.”

I agree with Stan Collender that this isn’t going to work. As he observes, the reason BRAC works for base closures is that congress actually decides that it wants to close bases. What it’s outsourcing to the commission is the decision about which bases, so as to prevent parochial interests from totally dominating. For a budget commission to work, it, too, will need to make some decisions on its own. Reduce the deficit to what? With how much coming out of taxes and how much coming out of defense and how much coming out of domestic?

A commission could be a good way to formulate a sensible plan in terms of details. Put something more reasonable than across-the-board cuts or rate hikes within the context of a dysfunctional tax code. But a commission can’t actually just create consensus out of thin air.