A Commission Cannot Work Unless Republicans Come Aboard

A Commission Cannot Work Unless Republicans Come Aboard

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Capital Exchange is a new blog offering insights and debate on newsworthy (or current) issues, with posts from some of the smartest Washington budget and policy experts.– Eric Pianin, Washington Editor and Moderator

Henry Aaron does a very good job explaining why commissions in general and budget commissions in particular aren't the political panacea some make them out to be. But he stops short of providing the real reason a budget commission created by presidential order will have problems. No, it's not what Republican Senator Judd Gregg says; his position that it won't be worth the effort because Congress will not have committed in advance to take up whatever the commission recommends at best is disingenuous subterfuge. The real reason it's not likely to succeed is that congressional Republicans don't want to participate.

At least that's the word I'm hearing with increasing frequency and stridency from the GOP leadership. Even though the White House budget commission will allow the Republicans to name half of the House and Senate members, the leadership is talking about refusing to do so. That refusal either would stop the commission before it gets started, or force the Democratic members to do precisely what a commission is intended to avoid: a deficit reduction plan associated with just one party and, therefore, mired in the same partisan political muck that is typical of federal budget politics these days.

Henry talks about how, even though in reality it failed miserably, some consider the Greenspan Commission to be the model for all commissions (Note to Judd Gregg: The Greenspan commission was presidentially appointed rather than congressionally created). The far more successful model is the Base Realignment and Closure Commissions that, in the face of often-intense local opposition, have come up with lists of facilities that Congress agreed to shutter.

But BRAC and a budget commission would be very different. BRAC started with the agreement that some military facilities needed to be closed and was only asked to decide the answer to one question: which ones. By contrast, a budget commission will begin with no such pre-consensus that narrows its choices considerably. I would be more than happy if the commission did nothing more than recommend what that consensus should be. It's not at all clear, however, whether that would be enough to satisfy many others.

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Stan Collender is the author of the Capital Gains and Games blog and is a partner with Qorvis Communications LLC