Recent polling puts the number of Americans with trust and confidence in Congress at an all-time low of 22 percent. The poll’s margin of error is 22 percent. No wonder the White House, with the consent of Congress, established the Deficit Commission to do what Congress is constitutionally required to do. But if the people don’t trust Congress—that obscure, amorphous body—why should Congress trust Congress?
Our Constitution doesn’t burden the Congress with too many responsibilities. Two of the very few items on Congress’ annual to-do list are to balance the budget and pass spending bills to provide for the general welfare. However, Congress, worried their poll numbers might slip to the even lower 20s, has eagerly agreed to participate in that favorite Washington cop-out: the establishment of a ’commission of old dudes to state the obvious’.
These commissions are famously formed the same way. Find two prominent members, otherwise known as retirees, of the two prominent political parties—the liberal ‘Mo’ Money, Mo’ Money’ party and the conservative ‘Mo’ Money’ party—and give them the grandiose titles, like co-commissioner.
Then the person who formed the commission—in this case the President of the United States, the world’s most powerful man—proclaims loudly to a gagged press corps that this is an independent commission free from any influence or pressure. He repeats that statement ceaselessly, with growing volume, and the co-old dudes suddenly deduce that he brought them out of obscurity and he can quickly put them back there.
With complete independence and freedom the commission sets to work immediately by staging a photo-op. Each member takes turns repeating what the older fellow next to him just said but more emphatically and sometimes with tears, and the scene begins to resemble the set of Oprah.
After a slew of mind-numbing speeches, with confused, rambling diatribes like an episode Masterpiece Theater gone awry, the commission breaks for cocktails and agrees to meet again in a month, when they’ll really, really get to work. At that point, they are left alone. Intelligent people—the photographers—won’t come back, unable to stomach another afternoon wasted upon recycled political theatrics.
During this month alone all the old dudes give press interviews, implying that their report will show the problem is worse than anyone ever dreamed. Their staff will be working hard, cutting and pasting from newspaper articles to create elaborate documents showing how bad the problem is and how many times the commissioners were quoted in the press.
Fast forward to Dec. 1, well after the American people have been rendered senseless by the barrage of campaign ads claiming the problem is Congress’ fault, whoever that is. The report, mostly completed in May, will be rushed to the printer’s after resolution of a prolonged staff battle over whether the eagle on the report’s cover should be wielding scissors or an abacus.
The report’s Executive Summary will draw a quote from one of the Founding Fathers: “Deficits, bad for everyone, cause cancer in children.” The summary will sympathize with the President because the Constitution renders him a victim. Finally, the report will demand courageous and bold action from Congress, whoever that is.
Congress will react with 535 floor speeches all blaming Congress. The majority party will ask how it can possibly fix this problem with a mere 113-vote majority. The minority party will whine that they haven’t read the report because their copy was delivered to Wyoming. Funny how that happens.
Finally, something new will happen—a 10-year-old will rocket himself into orbit, Castro will jog outside—and this will divert the last strands of attention from something everyone stopped paying attention to long ago.
The Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader will move on to other serious issues overseas—somewhere warm with plenty of shopping. The only remaining copy of the report will be safely filed away under the shortest leg of the beer pong table in the crash pad where the Deficit Commission’s 23-year-old Executive Director lives . . . most nights.
Jeff Sural is an attorney working in Washington, D.C.