If Conrad-Gregg Is Our Only Hope, Then We’re Doomed

Bill Galston says we need to reduce the deficit pretty soon:

In our polarized political circumstances, what congressional experts call “regular order” offers negligible prospects for progress on this front. Many elected officials have concluded that an empowered fiscal commission along the lines of the one proposed by Kent Conrad and Judd Gregg is the only strategy with any hope of succeeding. (Their bill already has 35 cosponsors, well-balanced between the political parties; the parallel House bill has more than one hundred.

If this is our only chance for succeeding, then I’d say we’ve got no chance for success. Getting a sustainable budget will be difficult under any circumstances. Getting one under these circumstances will be impossible:

Importantly, the task force would ensure a bipartisan outcome. Broad bipartisan agreement would be required to move anything forward. Fourteen of the 18 Task Force members would have to agree to report the recommendations. And final passage would require supermajorities in both the Senate and House.

It’s difficult for me to imagine any bill to curb the long-term deficit in a serious way getting a majority in both the House and the Senate. Getting a majority in the House and a supermajority in the Senate is even harder. Getting a supermajority in the House as well as one in the Senate is nigh-upon impossible.


I think it’s important for deficit hawks to not just rally behind the banner of anyone who jumps up and down and says “I’m a deficit hawk!” I think the statutory commission concept has merit. But to make it work, the commission needs some specific targets (Conrad-Gregg doesn’t say how much deficit reduction the commission is supposed to achieve, or when) and it needs to make it remove veto points not add new supermajorities.