As its members attempt to navigate the political minefield that is U.S. budget reform, things are already looking grim for President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform: The commission is suffering from a budget problem of its own, giving conservatives an additional reason to mock the bipartisan panel.
According to Tax Notes, the commission, which is charged with developing a plan to bring the deficit under control by 2015 and over the long-term thereafter, is itself too short of funds to operate effectively. The panel has been allocated the equivalent of four full-time salaries and $500,000, a small fraction of the budget of a congressional committee, raising doubts about whether it will be able to complete its task and issue findings by its Dec. 1 deadline.
"The panel's own co-chairs [former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY)] and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have criticized the meager resources and called for more support," according to Tax Notes. "After the group's first public meeting, Simpson said he would like the commission to travel the country to educate the public and elicit recommendations, but he added that the panel doesn't `have the scratch.'"
Bruce Reed, the commission's executive director, told the publication there will be 20 people working on the commission, up from 10 to 15 people it has now, including two full-time employees, interns and workers on loan from other agencies. He says he has enough manpower to get the job done. A spokesperson for Reed did not respond to an email seeking comment.
An Easy Target For Conservative Mockery
The fact that the Obama administration's commission tasked with finding ways to tackle the deficit will be adding to it -- albeit microscopically -- is laughable to some bloggers.
Writing on conservative syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin's blog, Doug Powers says, "I'm scribbling this hunk of paradox and irony down in the script I'm working on for the movie Dr. Strangelove II or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Laugh at Hope & Change."
Fellow right wing blogger Rob Port of Say Anything added "I don't envy politically-themed comics in this day and age. It becomes hard to mock those who do so thorough a job of making a mockery of themselves."
For pundits, this underscores Washington's lackadaisical attitude toward tackling the deficit, which is projected to hit $1.56 trillion in the current fiscal year, seen in both the Obama and Bush administrations. Fiscal conservatives argue that the government is awash in red ink because of out-of-control government spending, not because there isn't enough revenue coming to Uncle Sam's coffers. Liberals argue essentially the reverse, that tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy have diminished the government's ability to fund vital services.
The problem has been endlessly debated by both sides, as have solutions such as raising the retirement age. Ever since the commission was formed earlier this year, conservatives have suspected that the Obama administration would use it as a smokescreen to raise taxes. The news about the commission's financial woes underscores these suspicions.
"Find Offsets Somewhere in the Giant White House Budget"
"It's fundamentally silly and undemocratic," says Michael Connolly, a spokesman for the Club for Growth, a Washington-based group that promotes fiscally conservative ideas and candidates, in an interview. "We do elect Congress to make difficult decisions, not to pawn them off on unelected, unaccountable appointees."
Chris Edwards of the Libertarian Cato Institute has a creative solution to solve the commission's fiscal conundrum: Take its funding from the White House's budget. After all, he notes, members of Congress are required to offset their proposed spending under the pay-as-you-go rules with currently available funds to avoid increasing the deficit. The White House employs 487 people and has a budget of $64 million.
""They should find offsets somewhere in the giant White House budget," he says, adding that he does not expect the administration to seriously entertain his suggestion because both Democrats and Republicans have failed to take controlling the deficit seriously. "Obama does not seem to be interested in taxes. On spending and the deficit, I don't think the Bush administration gave a hoot. It's number 10 or 15 on the White House priority list."
But if Obama wants to address the looming concerns of investors about the deficit, he's going to have to provide enough money from somewhere for his commission to study the problem.
Obama's Commission to Solve U.S. Deficit Is Short on Cash