Twelve Adults and the CBO: How many adults in the room?

The much ballyhooed Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction–aka the “supercommittee”–was supposed to hear a history of the debt crisis today.

You can imagine how well that was going to go over.  Partisans from both sides were prepared, I’m sure, to lay blame for the federal government’s fiscal problems at their opponents feet.

“It was Bush’s fault!”

“Was not. It’s Obama’s fault!”

“Nuh, uh!”

And so one. Fortunately, there was an adult in the room, and he was, contrary to oft-repeated and oft delusional grandeur of parental responsibility, not President Obama.

In fact, it wasn’t even a politician, per se. As NPR tells it

Doug Elmendorf, the man who runs the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), immediately dispensed with the question of blame and laid out the options for the supercommittee.

“Putting the federal budget on a sustainable path will require significant changes in spending policies, significant changes in tax policies, or both,” Elmendorf said.

That’s a bitter pill, no matter what party you belong to. Elmendorf laid out the work before the committee. You have three issues before it, he said (and I’m quoting NPR, here):

  1. How much money the government is going to save;
  2. How quickly it is going to do it; and
  3. What mix of spending reductions (GOP choice) or tax increases (Democrat choice) it is going to use.

And partisan meat ain’t gonna cut it, alone. When Republican Senator John Kyl of Arizona suggested it could be recouped by stopping Medicare fraud or selling public lands, Elmendorf shut it down.

Neither of those would make up a very large part of the $1.2 trillion that the supercommittee is tasked with saving. (But he’d be glad to discuss those ideas, he said…just not on their own).

His idea, then? Raise spending or cut taxes now, and then later, raise taxes or cut spending. But lock it in now, with legislation in order to prevent future Congresses from waffling when the pressure is off.

Interesting idea, if something of a pipe dream. Check out the story from NPR.

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