Tuesday, January 19, 2010

budget commissions

On January 20, the Senate is scheduled to vote on creating a special commission to recommend measures to reduce our huge recession-induced federal budget deficits. As I understand the proposal, a bipartisan group would be tasked to get a 3/4 majority for a package that then would be voted, without amendment, by Congress. The models for this delegation of "too-hard" political choices are the Base Realignment and Closure Commissions [BRAC] that were used to close some military bases and the Greenspan Commission that mixed taxes and entitlement cuts to keep Social Security solvent for the past 30 years.

I like the idea, despite the long odds on its success if created. But the New York Times has a valuable cautionary story on the way the Greenspan Commission worked in practice. It took secret White House pressure and secret commission meetings to get beyond the entrenched positions of the commission members. The same would have to be true for any new budget commission to succeed. Members would have to compromise on tax increases and benefit cuts and spending priorities in ways Congress has so far failed.

Years ago when I interviewed Averell Harriman regarding negotiations on Laos in the early 1960s, he kept making the point that the key ingredient for success in negotiations is the willingness on all parties to reach an agreement. If they want to, the diplomats can craft a way.

A wise point. Any budget commission would have to adopt that same determination to succeed, and then it could happen.

No comments:

Post a Comment