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RE: Debt Commission Surprises

As I observed yesterday, the debt commission came out with a preliminary report that was better than expected from the perspective of conservatives and an anathema to liberals. The Wall Street Journal editors outline some of the negative aspects of the report: adhering to ObamaCare, too much timidity on discretionary spending cuts and entitlements, and an anti-jobs hike in the payroll tax. But the editors are mildly impressed:

Everyone to the right of MoveOn.org knows that the 35% corporate tax rate is a disincentive to invest in America and has sent businesses pleading to Congress for this or that loophole. This is the second Obama-appointed outfit to recommend a cut in the corporate tax rate, following Paul Volcker’s economic advisory group this year, and it ought to be one basis for bipartisan agreement. …

Mr. Obama conceived the deficit commission as a form of political cover for his spending blowout—and to coax Republicans into a tax increase. So it’s notable that Democrats and liberals have been more critical of the chairmen’s draft than have Republicans. Having put the U.S. in a fiscal hole, Nancy Pelosi’s minority wants to oppose all spending cuts or entitlement reform to climb out.

House Republicans should react accordingly, which means taking what they like from the commission report and making it part of their own budget proposals. If Senate Democrats and Mr. Obama want to regain any fiscal credibility, they’ll be willing to listen and talk. If not, the voters will certainly have a choice in 2012.

To a large extent, then, the report is a useful political document for the right. It helps sniff out who is serious about spending restraint and who is not, and it embraces a methodology for tax reform that conservatives can support and liberals almost certainly can’t. (Let the “rich” pay have a top marginal rate of 24 percent? Oh the horror!)

To put it bluntly, the left got rolled here. This group of Democrats, for lack of a better term, was comprised mostly of “Third Wave”/Democratic Leadership Council types. The Former Fed vice chairman Alice Rivlin is a grown-up. Sen. Kent Conrad and Rep. John Spratt are about the most responsible Democrats you could  find. By contrast, the liberals who were there, as one Washington insider pointed out to me yesterday, are “unserious” people. You can’t get more of a lightweight and a un-influential Democrat than the hard left Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

The left is already fingering the commission’s executive director Bruce Reed as the culprit. Reed, of course, was the CEO of the DLC and later a top domestic-policy adviser and welfare-reform bill author under Bill Clinton. He personifies what the netroots and Obama disdain — a pro-business, split-the-baby style of Democratic politics.

But the most predictable and provincial reaction came from a news outlet with skin in the game. “The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and NPR are denouncing the recommendation of the co-chairs of President Obama’s Fiscal Commission to eliminate funding for public broadcasting, long an objective of many conservatives.”  I’m sure that won’t affect their news coverage of the commission. Not in the least.

So the takeaway is that there are serious Democrats, just not in the White House (the Obama people were hiding under their desks yesterday) or many in the Congress. This presents a golden opportunity for Republicans to demonstrate they are the adults inside the Beltway. Unfortunately, the Democratic Senate and House caucuses with the exception of commissioner Conrad are not.


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