20 January 2010

A Modern-Day Retrenchment Committee To Make Decisions That Those Who Were Elected To Decide Cannot

I guess there are no new ideas in politics. I just started a book about John Quincy Adams, and read that in the early days of the Jackson Administration, Congress formed a "Retrenchment Committee" to look into ways to pay off the national debt.

The current idea is similar, but now no one is talking about paying anything off, just trying to get things to a manageable level.

NY Times: The Bipartisan Panel: Did It Really Work?

Before the Senate votes to raise the nation’s $12.4 trillion debt limit on Wednesday, it will debate an amendment from the leaders of the Senate Budget Committee to create a task force for recommending how to reduce the biggest deficits since World War II, in time for Congress to vote on its recommendations after the midterm elections. While the idea probably will fall short of the needed 60 votes, President Obama is negotiating with senior lawmakers to establish some fiscal panel by executive order.

Washington’s shelves are full of unheeded commission reports gathering dust. Yet after more than a quarter-century, the supposed success of the 1982-83 Greenspan Commission to save Social Security continues to inspire calls for bipartisan panels.
But just in time for the latest debate, the unpublished posthumous memoir of a central figure on the Greenspan panel, Robert M. Ball, a former Social Security commissioner, has emerged to challenge the conventional wisdom about its achievement.

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.

“A commission is no substitute for principled commitment,” wrote Mr. Ball, who died two years ago at 93. He expected that growing deficits soon would spur talk of another such panel.

“Above all,” he added, “we should not allow ourselves to fall into the trap of expecting miracles from another Greenspan Commission — by deluding ourselves into believing, mistakenly, that the first one was a great success.”

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