The latest leak out of the Catfood Commission is that the participants just can’t seem to agree on anything, with just 11 days to go until their report is due.
The bipartisan commission examining how to cut the federal debt ended three days of closed-door meetings Thursday without a firm agreement among its 18 members, with several saying the panel was still at odds over how to contain the ballooning costs of health care.
“The most difficult thing to deal with is the health-care accounts,” Sen. Kent Conrad (D., N.D.) said after emerging from a 90-minute meeting. “That is the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”
Hilariously, the Bowles-Simpson recommendations just decreed “health care expenditures will be capped at 1%!” without a plan to get them capped. It made the rest of the recommendations relatively easy, since health care expenditures is about 98% of the problem. In fact, if you just moved the United States to the expenditure levels in the health care systems of the rest of the industrialized world, you’d eliminate the budget deficit completely.
But that would be too sensible, so we slog forward with non-solutions. Like the Paul Ryan “roadmap” plan to basically voucherize Medicare. I find it particularly amusing that the deficit panel debated a Ryan proposal with Alice Rivlin to “cut spending on Medicare by $280 billion over the next decade.” Remember back to the health care debate, and every Republican coming out in lockstep against Medicare cuts, and whipping seniors into a frenzy over it? Good times.
The commission could be headed toward a big nothingburger:
Several panel members said time is starting to run out. The meeting was the group’s last until Nov. 30, just one day before they are scheduled to issue their recommendations. Mr. Conrad called a deal a long shot, but other members held out hope. Co-chairmen Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson are expected to speak with different panel members next week and continue to make changes to the proposal they released last week.
“Who knows if we’ll get to the promised land, but we’ve made enormous progress,” Mr. Bowles told reporters. Mr. Simpson said the pair were prepared to make changes, but “it won’t be a watered down thing like what happens in Washington all the time.”
The fact that the theme from these meetings is that the commission has everything locked down except for health care sounds like a football team saying they have everything locked down except for offense, defense and special teams. Health care is the whole enchilada.
With consensus unlikely, maybe they should simply recommend a cut to the military budget and be done with it. It’s clearly out of control, and now you have multiple different bipartisan panels and conclusions of experts saying that the budget has to go down. Military-fueled stimulus is destructive, and the entrepreneurship involved can be much better directed to positive societal actions. Maybe we take a whack at that and be done with it.