Entering Ho-Hum Land again

Are we entering Ho-Hum Land again?

The President’s Debt Commission has begun to list the areas where we can cut Washington’s spending. It will also suggest what we might do to bring in more money.

Commissions are a piece of cake. Any president can form one. Any president can boast that “I created a commission to tackle this problem, but Congress failed to…”  And all that.

President Reagan invited tycoon Peter Grace to form a commission to tackle government waste. It suggested thousands of ways Washington could save our tax dollars. Grace knew how to garner headlines for those suggestions. Millions of folks took notice and took heart. And then we all snuggled off to Ho-Hum Land. Congress used copies of the report as doorstops.

Congress loves to do things in big ways, in CAPITAL LETTERS with exclamation points!!! And so, when it decided to ignore the Grace Commission’s report it did so in a big way. It TOTALLY, ABSOLUTELY, COMPLETELY ignored the suggestions.

The report said that one-third of all the income tax we pay swirls down a toilet called waste and inefficiency. Ignore it, said Congress. The report said one-third of taxes that ought to be collected don’t get collected. That was because of the size of our underground economy, where no tax gets collected. Only one-third? Ignore it, said Congress.

The commission formed 36 task forces. It put to work 160 top executives from the private sector. They roused 2000 people to volunteer their thinking and research. Together they issued 2500 suggestions to cut costs and raise revenues. Congress treated them as if they were radioactive.

By the way, the Grace commission zeroed-in on pay and benefits for federal workers. These were too generous, the commission said. They were three to six times more generous than pay and benefits in the private sector. Does that sound familiar? It is an issue today. It is an issue today because Congress ignored it then.

What does the new Debt Commission recommend?  Predictable stuff. Cut some defense spending. Cut some Social Security payments. Cut some Medicare benefits. Raise some taxes. They could have come up with these suggestions with zero research during the happy hour and spent the rest of the night drinking.

‘Tis likely the politicians will nip and tuck the big programs. They will try to keep their fingerprints off cuts that would make them look bad. They will blame the cuts on the guys on the other side. They will leave the heavy lifting for the night crew that never shows up for work.

The only chance they will act otherwise is if the President truly and skillfully pushes the final recommendations from the commission. And if the Tea Partiers keep the faith and hold politicians footsies to the fire. Only they can embarrass and frighten politicians enough to deliver reforms.

I haven’t given up hope yet.

From Tom ... as in Morgan.                  

For more columns, for Tom’s radio shows and new TV show (and to write to Tom): tomasinmorgan.com.

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