The report of the bipartisan deficit reduction commission, co-chaired by Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, won only 11 of the 14 votes it needed to clear the committee today, and reach Congress for a full vote.
Few expected the report, a mixed bag of tax increases, spending cuts, and regulatory changes, to be adopted in full, so its death is not surprising. The deficit commission is a hospice, not a maternity ward. The individual provisions of the report can be examined and debated separately, in what Bowles hoped would be an “adult conversation.” Meanwhile, House Democrats shut their eyes and screamed for tax hikes, pounding their high chairs with a meaningless vote in favor of massive tax increases yesterday.
The deficit commission’s report has sparked some interesting conversations, and given us a wonderful opportunity to enjoy weird sound bites from Alan Simpson, who said he now plans to “get the hell out of town and sleep on the streets.” Fox News also quotes him as saying “democracy’s in trouble when the two most disgusting bodies in America are politicians and journalists.” In that case, democracy has been in trouble for a long time. Simpson was also rude to snub Hollywood, which feels it has earned a spot in the finals of the Disgusting Body competition.
As we root through the Cracker Jacks of the commission report, in search of a few prizes, we should remember that our bloated, bankrupt government didn’t get that way all at once. Franklin Delano Roosevelt would have been run out of town on a rail if the voters of his day had any inkling of what his New Deal would degenerate into. Predictions of the fiscal future that were a fraction as bad as things actually turned out to be were routinely dismissed as gibbering lunacy.
We should therefore understand that a comprehensive plan that tries to zero out the deficit, all at once, is not only impractical, but arguably counter-productive. How many times must the lesson of dynamic analysis be taught before our politicians finally understand it, or at least stop pretending they don’t?
For example, the deficit commission report included a suggestion for raising the already painful federal gas tax by 15 cents. Whatever revenue might be raised by such a move would be offset, at least in part, by both a reduction in fuel consumption, and a general economic slowdown from the increased cost of producing and shipping nearly everything. Environmentalists might applaud the reduced fuel consumption, but that has nothing to do with balancing the federal budget.
Here’s an idea for deficit reduction: let’s slash government spending, reduce and simplify taxes, remove regulatory burdens which impede production and commerce, and see what a lower percentage of a surging economy does to the national debt. Politicians created this mess. They should give the American people a shot at fixing it. If that doesn’t work, we can always find whatever street Alan Simpson is sleeping on, wake him up, and discuss tax increases. It’s not like the idea is ever going to go completely out of style.