Some unsolicited advice to President Obama's deficit commission as it votes today on the Bowles-Simpson plan to overhaul the federal budget: think Chipotle burritos.
The New Republic's Jonathan Chait discovers the connection in a How-To guide from The Awl about how to make your money count when ordering from Chipotle. The guide advises taking advantage of murky topping rules by asking for extra cheese and sour cream and stuffing your tortilla to the point where it tears and a second is required. Chait, ever the wonk, sees here an appetizing metaphor for the budget:
The flaw he's exploiting in the Chipotle system is that you don't have servers listing all the ingredients beforehand and then deciding how to fit them into a tortilla. Instead each decision about fillings is made independent from the others.You can loudly demand more cheese, more sour cream, and whatnot, and the asymmetry of interest (you really want more cheese, your server doesn't really care) ensures that the amount of every topping will be on the high side of the plausible.
Likewise, in the federal budget, we have discussions about each issue divorced from the others. Defense and homeland security? Nobody wants to be accused of "not being interested in the security of America," so they dollop on as much funding as needed. Entitlements? They run on autopilot. Taxes? Think of the poor families trying to get by on a mere $1.2 million a year! Then, finally, the federal spending is oozing out of the tax tortilla.