The Primacy of Politics in Budget Policy

Regarding Evan Bayh’s Budget Commission I wanted to comment on the aristocratic and undemocratic nature of any such proposal.

Issue area commissions being undemocratic is not so noteworthy; they are created because the traditional democratic process has failed. There’s a strong case that the 9-11 and BRAC commissions made valuable conclusions and recommendations that politicians could just never make. But in the case of the budget you’re talking about outsourcing society’s decisions on a much wider basis.

And who gets to make the recommendations? You could expect former politicians and appointees of the Democratic and Republican parties, either evenly or almost evenly divided. So decisions about the future would be made by politicians of the past. You would make no effort to reflect the outcomes of recent elections and implicitly ignore the possibility anyone other then Republicans and Democrats would ever win elections in the future.

Because the process is undemocratic all the legitimacy of a Budget Commission would come from 1) The superiority of their recommendations and 2) It’s success in getting policy results. The second category would clearly be the most problematic, why exactly is Congress going to listen to this Commission and why should we waste our energy and focus if they won’t?

I think Evan Bayh focusing on this issue is admirable but, like so many proposals, the surrounding actions of the people making the proposals is more important then what they’re actually proposing. In terms of efficacy of the a Budget Commission it’s at least as important who supports it, then the details of it’s stated mission. A broad coalition of legislators and maybe the recommendations matter, a narrow group of legislators and it’s in a useless exercise. You can’t write politics out of policy making, but you can get buy in from politicians for a solution.


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