Last month, Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) proposed creating a bipartisan commission to propose solutions to the nation's disastrous fiscal crisis. Foolishly and with incredible short-sightedness, the Senate voted down the proposal. However, as he said he would do in his State of the Union Address, President Obama has now taken the step himself, issuing an executive order creating a high-powered commission to study ways to reduce the deficit.
To co-chair this commission, President Obama has chosen Democrat Erskine Bowles, who was chief-of-staff to President Clinton, and Republican Alan Simpson, a former Governor of Wyoming who also served as one of the state's senators for several years. Two other members of the commission will be chosen by the White House, while six will be chosen by congressional Democrats and six by congressional Republicans.
Considering the refusal of the Republican Party to act as a responsible opposition over the last year, it wouldn't be surprising if they will simply refuse to participate in the commission in an effort to embarass the President. This would be a great disservice to the country. The fiscal situation of the United States presents a danger to the country far greater than any conceivable combination of foreign enemies, and to play political games while the disaster accelerates is so irresponsible that history will condemn the GOP for decades to come if they don't step up and work with the Democrats to deal with it.
The Democrats, however, need to get their own house in order before anyone can take them seriously on this issue. While the freeze on discreationary spending increases is better than nothing, President Obama and the Democratic leaders in Congress need to go much further. All talk of a second stimulus package should be dismissed out of hand, and the country needs to be prepared for inevitable cuts, not just spending increases.
The continued announcements by moderates and "deficit hawks" in Congress that they are resigning is not encouraging. Thus far, three of the most prominent champions of a more sensible budget have announced that they will not seek reelection this year: Judd Gregg (R-NH), Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Evan Bayh (D-IN). While all the mindless political pundits analyze these announcements for any perceived advantage or disadvantage they create for one party or the other (as if that matters), few are mentioning the disquieting implications these resignations will have on budget and deficit issues, which cannot be solved without bipartisan solutions.
Let's hope this commission can actually accomplish something and that this opportunity is not sacrificed on the altar of partisan politics.