Sunday, January 17, 2010

Constitutional discussion

News and Observer has two interesting op-eds this morning (reprinted from WaPo and NY Times). Thomas Geohegan arguing that the practice of the filibuster is unconstitutional primarily because it deprives the office of the Vice President of one of its only two constitutionally defined roles: breaking an equally deadlocked Senate. And George Will arguing that a debt/deficit focused entitlement commission being discussed would be unconstitutional because it would deprive the Congress of its constitutional duty to set spending levels.

I am not sure if the filibuster is unconstitutional, but it has rendered the Senate dysfunctional. The answer there is some change in the filibuster rule set to take place at some future point (say, in 4 years the filibuster break becomes 55 votes, in 8 we have straight majority rules [stick with me, I know that is shocking]. Then they can set a policy that makes more sense without knowing who will be in minority or majority.

On Will's argument, he says this is a 'lets hold hands and jump off the cliff together' approach to dealing with long term solvency. As a metaphor, I think that is about the only way of coming up with a broad based agreement (in a broad cultural sense) of how to set up a plan where the ins match the outs over a long term, and the cumulative debt is stabilized at a sustainable level. Will mostly is opposed I think because he suspects they(a commission) will raise taxes in addition to reduce benefits (those are actually the only two choices other than insolvency, long term). He is right, they will have to rise if we will achieve fiscal sanity and benefits will have to be cut.

In the 4 years since the 1950s that we have had a balanced budget, revenues were between 20 and 20.5% of GDP. They were just over 15% this past year, a terrible recession....but something like 17-18% for most of the past decade.

If you look at the Petersen-Pew Commission on Budget Reform, which is Center-Right, and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities similar Commission (which is Center-Left) they are shockingly similar in two ways. First, deficit/debt reform is health care reform as Medicare and Medicaid are the primary drivers of the deficit problem the next 50 years. And second, there will have to be a broadly agreed to mix or benefit cuts and tax increases to deal responsibly.

Back to the filibuster argument in the Senate, the current state of dysfunction in that body does not give one much optimism for them rationally dealing with the deficit/debt issue since addressing it will be focused on a 'hold hands jump off the cliff together' setting up Congress voting up or down seems to only way to have a chance at sanity.

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