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An Executive Order Debt Commission Doesn’t Cut It

Posted By J.D. Foster, Ph.D. On December 17, 2009 @ 12:57 pm In Economics | Comments Disabled

President Obama is reported to be considering an Executive Order [1]creating yet another commission to consider options for curtailing Washington’s deficit addiction. Even at a time when action is desperately needed, such an Executive Order is likely worse than doing nothing.

The Executive Order approach represents Congress’ latest embarrassing retreat in the fight against deficit spending. Conservative and moderate “Blue Dogs” in Congress have joined many of their Republican colleagues in refusing to support a $1.8 trillion hike in the debt ceiling unless they get a vote on a real deficit and debt commission with enforceable recommendations. As Representative Allen Boyd (D-FL), a real commission supporter and Blue Dog Democrat put it, “We don’t have the will in Congress to discipline ourselves. We have proven that over the years”.

Speaker Pelosi is having none of it, however. She’d rather make the Congress take two painful votes on a small debt limit hike now and a big one in the spring than admit failure. She reportedly believes a commission would cede too much responsibility. Ceding responsibility is the point when Congress is persistently and flagrantly irresponsible.

So the White House is considering an indecent figleaf as an alternative – a presidential commission, of which history is replete with failed examples. There are three simple reasons such a commission is likely worse than nothing:

  1. A One View Commission An Obama commission would likely be packed with people who think like Obama. Moderates and especially conservatives need not apply. What’s the point of the commission, then? Obama ran to lead, he should just do so and skip the middleman.
  2. A Toothless Commission A distinguishing feature between a useful and a useless deficit commission is whether Congress is required to vote on its recommendations. Unless Congress expressly legislates to the contrary at the outset, a presidential commission’s recommendations are little more than dust in the wind.
  3. A Do Nothing Commission A toothless presidential commission would be an unfortunate substitute for action, and it would continue to substitute for action until long after it finally reports. In the meanwhile real efforts at budget reform are put on hold and the problems get deeper and deeper.

Members of Congress asked to vote on the largest increase in the debt ceiling in history have good reason to be uncomfortable, and to demand some assured means of getting deficit spending under control. A good alternative is the bi-partisan Wolf-Cooper commission proposal that already enjoys over 100 co-sponsors. A presidential commission is the policy equivalent of a Senate filibuster, naught but a tale full of wonkish sound and fury signifying nothing.


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[1] President Obama is reported to be considering an Executive Order : http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/17/us/politics/17cong.html?_r=2

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