commission issued its recommendations, adopted by an 11-8 vote, not enough to require that Congress actually vote on these proposals. Many, especially on the left, have viewed the commission's work with alarm or suspicion, labeling it the "cat food commision," and suggesting that the president had a secret plan to cut Social Security benefits or make other drastic reductions in social spending. You would think more of the people savvy in the ways of Washington would remember what the purpose of commissions actually is: take a political hot potato, toss it to a panel of blue ribbon "experts," praise their work, study their recommendations, and then do nothing about them. You would think they would also remember that the man we elected president two years ago is not stupid.
In this case, the President was facing a lot of political heat mainly from the right, about the increasing federal debt. Now he has a ready answer to anyone concerned about debts and deficits. He can say he created a blue ribbon panel to look into the problem, they made some serious recommendations, and now it is up to Congress to do something. Of course Congress will never pass the commission's recommendations. Congress has no interest in making the painful choices necessary to close the deficit gap. Republicans say they want to cut spending, but can never specify enough spending cuts to cut the gap. Democrats might want to raise taxes, but will pay a political price for doing so.
So we're not about to do anything drastic or painful to reduce the deficit, and that is a good thing. The truth is that now, during a shaky economic recovery, is not really a good time to make serious efforts to reduce the deficit. In fact, we could use more deficit spending, not less, to get the economy moving. So the commission has performed a useful service by putting on the table some interesting recommendations that we should take a few years to study so that when the time comes, we might consider a few of them. My guess is that the president's team anticipated this result a long time ago, when they decided on the composition of the commission.
Meanwhile, the Senate today just refused to extend the Bush tax cuts for those making under $250,000 per year. Even though this middle class tax cut extension passed the House, and would pass the Senate also, a minority of Senators refuses to allow these tax cuts to be extended unless tax rates for the top 2% of the population are also frozen. As I previously posted, the administration's critics on the left have been wringing their hands for weeks, raising alarm bells about how the Democrats are going to wimp out on the Bush tax cuts. They did not wimp out. They would have passed the bill, but for yet another illegitimate use of the filibuster by Republicans. And the administration of course knew all along that the Republicans would do this, and knew also that they did not have 60 votes in the Senate for passing middle class tax cuts without also extending, at least for a time, the tax cuts for the rich. Anyone who criticizes the Democrats for not taking a strong enough stand on this issue has the burden of demonstrating how they would have obtained the necessary 60 votes to extend the tax cuts for the middle class only. I submit that they cannot do it. So now the way is paved for a compromise proposal that will extend the middle class tax cuts without limit, and extend the tax cuts for the rich for a couple of years. And once again the President's team seems to be playing chess while the rest of us are playing checkers, because they knew a long time ago that this was the best result they could get on this issue in the real world.
(AP photo from LA Times)