When a Commission Might Work

Stan Collender has a good post on the logic of commissions, drawing the distinction between the kinds of situations where a commission is helpful and the kind of situations where it’s not:

The only other commission that is typically cited as a success — the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission — deals with a very different type of issue because it starts with an agreement that bases and other DOD facilities should be cut. The only question, therefore, is which ones. The budget equivalent of that would be something like “We’ve decided to cut some agriculture programs and we need a commission to make recommendations on which should go.” That type of consensus doesn’t exist, however. In fact, there’s no political consensus on the most fundamental question of cutting spending vs. raising revenue.

Right. In particular with BRAC, each member of congress has a specific duty to protect the interests of the geographical area he represents. That makes it difficult for congress to pick winners and losers among geographical areas. But if congress can decide what needs to happen in general it can then outsource the geographical aspect of the problem to a commission. But if you expect congress to pass something, then you need some kind of congressional consensus about what sort of thing needs to be done. In the case of a deficit commission, that would mean targets—how much deficit reduction? How much through taxes? How much through spending?