StanCollender'sCapitalGainsandGames Washington, Wall Street and Everything in Between

About Kerrey-Danforth...And Other Commissions

21 Aug 2008
Posted by Stan Collender

Andrew makes all the right points in his post below on the Kerrey-Danforth Commission.

I'd take it a step further: almost all commissions, but especially those that deal with the budget, are virtually doomed to fail.

The reason is simple: commissions are almost always created by politicians who, for political reasons, don't want to or can't deal with some issue.  But in almost all cases, the politics of these issues -- especially the budget -- can never be separated from the issues themselves.  A commission's solution or recomendation has to be reviewed by the politicians who were trying to avoid the issue in the first place. If they were able to make a decision, they wouldn't have needed the commission.

I'm talking from personal experience.  I was a member of a commission in the 1990s on whether the U.S. should have a capital budget.  We talked, held hearings, signed off on a report with limited recommendations, and nothing happened because few with the authority to implement anything wanted to do so.

The budget has a long and storied history as far as commissions are concerned.  An Eisenhower-era commission failed miserably when it was only able to come up with one very small and rather obscure program with limited political support that could be eliminated.  I'm told that even that program was never touched.

There is one thing I disagree with Andrew on: the success of the Greenspan Commission.  It succeeded only after months of failure and only then because Social Security was about to run out of cash.  My guess is that would have made it possible for Congress and the White House to agree to do something with or without a recommendation from the commission.

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