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Mental Prisoner of the Congress

By Matthew Yglesias

"Mental Prisoner of the Congress"

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An except from the President’s statement on the Simpson/Bowles Commission:

This morning, my budget director, Jack Lew, spoke with Chairman Bowles and invited the entire Commission in to meet with him and Secretary Geithner to discuss the Commission’s proposals. Overall, my goal is to build on the steps we’ve already taken to reduce our deficit, like slowing the growth of health care costs, proposing a three-year freeze in non-security discretionary spending and a two-year pay freeze for federal civilian workers, and restoring the rule that we pay for all of our priorities.

I have various disagreements with this, but I think this also illustrates the extent to which the former-Senator President his senior staff full of former legislative aids have become mental prisoners of the legislative process. “Restoring the rule that we pay for all of our priorities” is a references to re-adopting statutory PAYGO rules in the congressional process. That might or might not be a good idea, but if the President does think it’s a good idea he can adopt the same thing unilaterally. He just needs to say “I will veto any bill that increases the deficit relative to current law.”

He needs to really, really mean it. When people say “what about the AMT patch?” he could say “I’m for AMT patches, but only if they’re paid for.” When people say “what about the Bush tax cuts?” he could say “I’m for middle class tax cuts, but only if they’re paid for.” When people say “whata bout the doc fix?” he could say “I’m against cutting Medicare reimbursement rates, but only if it’s paid for.” Repeat that enough times and suddenly it becomes congress’ problem. Congress wants an AMT patch? Fine, then congress needs to pay for it. There are lots of things the President can’t do in the legislative process, but refusing to sign deficit-increasing bills is something he definitely can do.

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