The Dirty Job That Congress Won’t Do on Its Own
Ernest Istook /
Congress needs someone like Mike Rowe to do the dirty job that politicians won’t touch.
Our $1.4-trillion (and rising!) annual deficit and $12-trillion accumulated debt are not caused by the economy. They’re caused by runaway spending.
Unable or unwilling to specify and enforce spending cuts on their own, some in Congress are calling for help by establishing a new commission that would both identify ways to cut back and force Congress to vote on it.
It’s not a substitute for the immediate self-discipline that lawmakers need, but it could help.
Blue Dogs in the U.S. House this week formally endorsed the idea, contained in HR 1557, authored by Rep. Jim Cooper (D, TN) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R, VA), with 100 total sponsors. As noted by Roll Call, “If House Republicans join with the Blue Dogs, they would have the votes to roll [House Speaker] Pelosi, who has long opposed the idea.”
The proposed entity is called the SAFE Commission (for “Securing America’s Future Economy”). It’s modeled on the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closing) system that in the 1990’s broke a long-time logjam that had stalled the closure of excess military bases.
There’s no guarantee that Congress would abide by the proposed reductions, but the project would be a noteworthy contribution. As The Heritage Foundation’s Stuart Butler notes, the idea is “necessary but not sufficient . . . a critical element to enable Congress to make hard decisions instead of systematically avoiding them.” The process requires proper design and clear boundaries to assure it does not become a tool of those who would increase both taxes and spending and proclaim the result good because it’s “deficit neutral.”
And for those who would use it as a delaying action, creating a commission work is no excuse to continue skyrocketing spending in the meantime. Necessary components include an advance set of national hearings. These would enable concerned citizens such as “tea party” groups to express themselves and to sound off against any effort to propose higher taxes rather than lower spending.
Bipartisan and bicameral support have coalesced around the idea. At a recent Senate Budget Committee hearing, the chairman, Sen. Kent Conrad (D, ND) spoke favorably of it. He and Sen. Judd Gregg (R, NH) are sponsors of a Senate version.
Unlike constitutional proposals for a balanced budget, spending limits or growth limits, a commission’s proposals would not bind Congress—other than to hold a BRAC-like up-or-down all-or-nothing vote on the recommendations.
But just as Congress swallowed hard and accepted the BRAC recommendations, the commission offers an opportunity that focuses attention on the problems—especially automatic pilot entitlement spending—that office-holders are refusing to tackle on their own.