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Why A Deficit Commission Can't Work

Judd Gregg and Kent Conrad hope to reduce the deficit by establishing a bipartisan commission. Their favorite example of success is the 1982 commission that helped save Social Security. Jackie Calmes of the New York Times gets Robert Ball's unpublished memoir, which shows it really didn't:

In a sprightly account promoted by former staff members from both parties, Mr. Ball calls the Greenspan Commission a failure. As he tells it, only a willingness to compromise by the two principal antagonists of the time — Ronald Reagan, the Republican president, and Representative Thomas P. O’Neill, the Democratic House speaker — made it possible for Mr. Ball and a few others to salvage from the deadlocked panel a deal that raised payroll taxes and trimmed benefits enough to keep Social Security solvent.

That's the key point. The commission helped produce a solution because the leaders of both parties agreed on the nature of the problem. We have nothing like such an agreement today. Democrats say the deficit is a problem. Republicans say the problem is a government that "taxes too much and spends too much." Their economic program consists entirely of more tax cuts that would deepen the deficit. There's no alchemy in a commission that can force a party to solve a problem it doesn't want to solve.