Today, a proposal by Sens. Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Kent Conrad (D-ND) to create a statutory commission charged with proposing ways to rein in the country’s deficit failed to garner sixty votes in the Senate, despite the endorsement of President Obama. This comes after the news last night that Obama’s State of the Union tomorrow will include a proposal to freeze “non-security” discretionary spending at 2011 levels for 2012 and 2013.
A few Republicans have voiced cautious support for Obama’s spending freeze (including, of course, Sen. John McCain), but on Fox News today, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) criticized the move for having no substance. Shelby would prefer a deficit commission, and his version is possibly the most bizarre that I’ve heard yet:
I think [the spending freeze is] more politics than substance. What we really need is a meaningful, citizens, presidential people to put together a commission, not to raise taxes to balance the budget but to cut programs. Everything should be involved. But that’s going to take a lot of political will, it has to start with the President, and it would have to end up on Capitol Hill. We’re not there, this proposal there, goes nowhere like that.
Yikes. So real action on the deficit will come from a commission of “citizens” and “presidential people” (whoever that might be), who set out to balance the budget solely by cutting programs? And “everything should be involved,” except revenue? This is the epitome of an idea that is more politics than substance.
Even though balancing the budget with spending cuts alone is simply impossible, Shelby is just the latest in a line of Republican lawmakers and conservative activists who want to see a commission that is explicitly barred from considering tax increases. In an interview with CNS News, former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) actually chided Republicans for taking this view. “I’m sorry that some Republicans think otherwise, but I was there [in the Senate] a long time, and I don’t think you can do spending [cuts] alone…It’s got to be a package, and — to my way of thinking — it’s got to have taxes on the table,” he said. Former Reagan official Bruce Bartlett agreed, writing “the idea that revenues should be completely off the table is simply insane.”
Exempting entitlements and defense spending, “the rest of the budget needs to be cut by 51 percent to have a balanced budget in 2014, or by 27 percent to get [the deficit] to 2 percent of GDP.” So it’s really no wonder Shelby wants to outsource that kind of drastic gutting to somebody else, rather than pin his own name on it.