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I wholeheartedly agree with George Hager’s conclusion that we can, in fact, “stick a fork in President Obama’s deficit commission” – but for reasons that are far more fundamental than the choice of Republican appointees. To be sure, the GOP leadership’s choices of hard-core conservatives to serve on the panel may have been the final nail in the commission’s coffin, to mix metaphors shamelessly, but the essential problem was rooted in the very structure of what the President created.
Over the years, Presidents and Congresses have established commissions on the basis of a simple premise: they faced an issue of utmost importance, but the issue was too politically-charged to enable elected officials to make progress on it. By contrast, a commission that was somehow removed from the immediacy of politics could take a more sober-minded view of the issue and agree on a fair and presumably bipartisan plan to address it. At that point, the President and Congress could adopt the plan. These elected officials would then explain to their constituents that, while they didn’t necessarily support every element within the bipartisan plan, they believed that the issue was important enough to justify voting for it.
But, in establishing his commission, look what Obama did. He created a panel that, far from being removed from politics, is quintessentially political from the start. It has 18 members, 12 of whom must be selected by the Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress and – here’s the kicker – must be members of Congress (six from the Senate, six from the House). Thus, the commission is dominated by members from the very institution – Congress – that can’t solve the problem in the first place, creating the need for a commission. It also must find a solution to which at least 14 of 18 members have agreed, and do its work during this election year when all eyes are increasingly focused on the mid-term elections.
At that point, it would not really matter who the congressional leaders would eventually choose. In this highly charged political environment, no member of Congress will buck the party line on taxes and spending and, as a result, the commission will never be able to draft a bipartisan plan for deficit reduction to begin with.
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Lawrence J. Haas is former Communications Director to Vice President Gore and, before that, to the White House Office of Management and Budget. Hes now a public affairs consultant who writes widely about foreign and domestic issues, including fiscal policy.