Let Them Eat Debt Commissions

Evan Bayh

It looks like Evan Bayh, Kent Conrad and other “centrist” Democrats are really serious about voting to force the U.S. government to default unless they get a special “budget commission” to propose budget balancing initiatives. Meanwhile, I saw Senator Bayh on television earlier today attacking the idea of a war tax to pay for escalation in Afghanistan, saying instead that we should be looking at unspecified spending cuts. Then I read this op-ed from Bayh about the proposal, and it more and more looks to me like this idea is so vacuous that what its proponents really want is for liberals to kill the idea. Then they get to complain, foot-drag on climate and other crucial initiatives, and continue opposing each and every concrete proposal to reduce deficits that emerges:

The proposal I am supporting with Sens. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, and Judd Gregg, R-New Hampshire, would create a new debt-fighting commission. Conventional wisdom in Washington is that commissions are something politicians create to defer hard decisions. But 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 think Bayh is right, commissions don’t have to be something politicians create to defer hard decisions. But Bayh’s specific proposal absolutely reeks of a desire to defer hard decisions. He doesn’t, for example, have an actual target in mind. Nor any suggestions whatsoever for guidelines to shape the commission’s deliberation. He thinks it should “put all options on the table” but also devise a specific plan (which presumably entails ruling many options off the table) that then gets an “up-or-down vote.”

It seems to me that in light of Bayh’s evident passion for this issue, maybe he should get his way and even be made chairman of the commission. Let him and his co-commissioners come up with a proposal that they’re willing to stand behind, and then congress can debate it. It almost seems like letting the deficit scaremongers off too easy to argue with them about whether or not we should initiate an argument about their ideas.