That ambivalence is accurately captured in the dual identity of Americans as “theoretical conservatives” when it comes to the size and scope of government and taxes and “operational liberals” when it comes to government largesse (“Keep government’s hands off my Medicare”).
We needn’t go deeply into the third factor I cited, the stock market. It has fluctuated wildly during the past few months, mostly over factors unrelated to the fate of the joint committee. Still, there is a lingering recognition that markets will be severely affected if Congress does not soon address the country’s fiscal unsustainability: Greece is the word.
I do not accept the conventional wisdom that any serious attempt at deficit reduction will be put off until after the 2012 elections, when Congress and the president will presumably have a clear mandate on dealing with the debt. We’ve been down that can-kicking road so many times that our stubbed toes are at risk of gangrene. Congress should seriously consider a massive, budget reconciliation process, beginning in January, that will direct the committees of jurisdiction to produce by mid-April $4 trillion in budget savings over the next 10 years.
That route, like the joint committee’s process, is filibuster-proof in the Senate but recognizes the value of drawing on the expertise of existing committees to rationally process priorities and make sound recommendations to their respective bodies. Who says elections have to be all about blaming others for our sad state?
Don Wolfensberger is a Congressional scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a visiting scholar with the Bipartisan Policy Center and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.