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Kai Ryssdal: The budget plan that the White House released today is remarkably slim for all the money it proposes to spend. Just 140 pages to dispense with $3.5 trillion. Of course, the details are still to come. As is more information about exactly how President Obama plans to deal with some of the budgetary problems that are now on his plate. Writer and commentator Lawrence Haas says not all of the proposals being bandied about are good ones.
LAWRENCE HAAS: There’s a really lousy idea floating around Washington. The idea is that Congress would create a commission of private experts to draft a plan to balance the budget. Democrats and Republicans in Congress are supposedly too divided to agree on tax increases and spending cuts. So, the commission would draft a plan, and then Congress would enact it.
This is no fly-by-night proposal. Its proponents include important members of the Senate and House, and some of Washington’s leading private experts. The problem is — the idea is based on two myths.
The first myth is that a commission, working outside the partisan atmosphere of Congress, can easily draft a plan. History suggests otherwise.
In 1987, Congress created the same kind of commission to draft a plan to balance the budget. Guess what happened? The 14 prominent individuals — most of them private citizens — could not reach agreement. Eight members issued one report; the other six issued another.
Congress did not vote on either one.
Then in 1993, Congress created another commission — this one to draft a plan to control the costs of entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. Guess what? That panel never agreed on a plan either.
The second myth is that Congress will never be able to draft its own plan. Here again, history suggests otherwise. In 1990, Congress worked with the first President Bush to enact a 5-year plan to cut deficits by half a trillion dollars. Then in 1993, Congress worked with President Clinton to enact another 5-year plan to cut deficits by another half a trillion dollars. Both plans succeeded and by 1998, the budget was balanced.
That’s how it’s supposed to work. The president and Congress see a problem and fix it. That’s why we elect them. Now, a new president and Congress again face huge deficits that threaten our economic future. They should address the problem, not delegate it to a commission that wasn’t elected by anyone.
Kai Ryssdal: Lawrence Haas was the communications director at the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton Administration.
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