In the last few months, a bunch of self-styled “deficit hawks” — led by Sens. Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Kent Conrad (D-ND) — began pushing for the creation of a bipartisan deficit commission. The commission would, in theory, tackle the country’s budget problems by crafting a package of spending cuts and tax increases that would face an up or down vote in Congress. President Obama is reportedly “seriously considering” support for the creation of such a commission.
As many have aptly noted, far from being the solution to our budgetary problems, the commission merely sets more veto points into an already dysfunctional legislative process. (Just getting past the commission stage would require 14 of the 18 commission members approving the recommendations.)
But some conservatives have seized on the commission idea and crafted an even more ridiculous proposal: the creation of a commission that will attempt to control deficits while being explicitly barred from considering any sort of tax increase. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) is leading the charge:
“We must address unsustainable deficit and entitlement spending, but not at the expense of economic growth,” said Congressman McHenry. “Raising taxes is not the answer. This bill takes a decisive step toward true structural reform to ensure that future generations are not saddled with crippling levels of debt. Thus far, Congress has shown itself incapable of making these hard choices; it’s become clear that an outside commission is necessary.”
Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist has an op-ed in the Washington Times today in which he praised McHenry for having a “grown-up idea — set up a commission that recommends spending reduction — and no tax hikes.”
But how, exactly, does taking taxes off the table from the outset represent a “grown-up” way to make “hard choices”? The whole premise behind a commission is that it will be empowered to make politically unpalatable suggestions (like raise taxes) that Congress wouldn’t normally touch. McHenry’s plan follows the same line of thinking that Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) employed when he said that California’s Proposition 13 — which is in large part responsible for that state’s budget misery — should be a “guiding light” for the nation.
Getting deficits under control on the spending side alone is economically impossible. Exempting interest on the debt, Social Security, Medicare, and defense spending (which Republicans never agree to cut), “the rest of the budget needs to be cut by 51 percent to have a balanced budget in 2014.” So the numbers just don’t add up. Of course, from the outline of McHenry’s plan, it’s pretty clear that gutting those entitlement programs is his ultimate goal, as they are the only things that he cites as needing reform.
As Paul Krugman said, “it’s not really hard to give the economic numbers” that would bring deficits in line, but “all of this hinges on being able to actually talk about tax increases, even modest ones, without it being political suicide.” McHenry shows just how unserious — dare I say, child-like — the right’s approach to this issue really is.