Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

After the Deficit Commission, on to Plan B

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

After the Deficit Commission, on to Plan B

Article excerpt

Without 14 votes in favor, the deficit commission draft plan won't be formally recommended to Congress. That will mean considering pieces of it, or other ideas, to reduce the deficit.

If the president's deficit commission cannot agree on a bipartisan plan to reduce the federal debt, Congress will have to take enough significant steps in that direction to avoid a European- like debt crisis in the financial markets.

Can lawmakers do even that?

The commission, led by Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, votes Friday on recommendations that would sop up nearly $4 trillion in red ink within a decade.

The bold plan - three-quarters spending cuts, one-quarter tax adjustments - may well win the support of a majority of the 18- member commission. But it's unlikely to gain the required supermajority of 14 votes needed to formally send the entire plan to Congress for consideration.

A likely Plan B, though not designated as such, will be for lawmakers - as well as President Obama - to take up pieces of the commission plan (or other ideas) as they fashion the next federal budget.

The two parties will compete on what steps to take first, but they'll both be in a race against a greater foe: global financial markets.

The "markets" are merciless, indiscriminating, and unpredictable in timing. They don't care if a country manages its government well (Ireland) or poorly (Greece). If a nation's debt looks unpayable, bam, the markets lower the boom. They basically say: We'll lend to you again once you can show us how you will pay us back.

That has suddenly put both Greece (last spring) and Ireland (now) on a severe long-term spending diet that is highly unpopular with citizens. As Mr. Obama's commission co-chairs have repeatedly warned, this could happen to the United States.

Given what's happened in Europe, wisdom would dictate that Washington take large steps toward debt reduction, and in a timely manner.

As painful as it may be, cutting the military budget and federal workforce - as the commission co-chairs recommend - are unlikely to be interpreted as serious measures. …

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