How To Think About: Budget Gimmicks

As President Obama creates a deficit commission today with a stroke of his pen, Michael Kinsley offers some help in how to interpret talk of deficits, debt, and the federal budget.

The deficit commission is currently part of a three-pronged gimmick attack in dealing with the U.S. debt problem, Kinsley says, the others being Obama's three-year non-discretionary spending freeze and Pay-as-You-Go spending rules instituted, and maintained off and on, in Congress some time ago.

Here is Kinsley's quick summation of deficit commission politics:

Interest groups like AARP oppose a presidential deficit commission on the straightforward reasoning that it is likely to recommend cuts in programs for their people. Republicans resist on political grounds: Democrats control the Senate, House, and White House. Any plan to reduce the deficit will be unpopular. Why let Dems off the hook by agreeing to share the unpopularity? There is also a high-minded objection to the commission dodge: it usurps the power of democracy. We elect people to make these choices for us. Commissions are a way to cut citizens out of important decisions.