When you hear people talk deficit policy, you hear a lot about untouchable "third rail" programs. Social Security? Electric. Military spending? Hands off. Medicare? High voltage. Debt reduction is a railroad track made exclusively of third rails.
But Thursday, at a deficit policy event held by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, one audience member asked a distinguished panel of budget experts and former electeds to identify the low-hanging fruit in budget reform. Jim Kolbe, a former Republican congressman, identified two: adding a gas tax and raising the Social Security full retirement age. Brookings fellow William Galston named another: eliminating some wasteful tax expenditures.
What do these ideas have in common? They're certainly not low-hanging fruit.
-- Gas tax? I'm quite sure that taxes on the middle class in a recession is chapter one, paragraph one of the book How to Lose Friends and Alienate People on Capitol Hill. It's fairly remarkable to hear a former Republican congressman call any tax a cinch.
-- The liberal Democratic caucus doesn't want to raise the retirement age by a single week, and I imagine the powerful AARP will have something to say about any Social Security cuts.