On his blog Dr. Krugman attacks Fiscal Commission co-chair Alan Simpson for his recent Social Security comments. More interesting than Dr. Krugman’s latest Social Security argument is that he is trying to kill the President’s Fiscal Commission by declaring it to be already dead:
But the commission is already dead … and zombies did it.
… So what does it mean that the co-chair of the commission is resurrecting this zombie lie? It means that at even the most basic level of discussion, either (a) he isn’t willing to deal in good faith or (b) the zombies have eaten his brain. And in either case, there’s no point going on with this farce.
I will respond to the specific “zombie lie” claim another day. Today I want to focus on the strategic problem Dr. Krugman’s post raises for the President.
The Commission has always been a long shot for the President. In the short run it provides him with a plausible-sounding answer to deficit questions in this mid-term election year as he urges Congress to increase spending, both as more short-term fiscal stimulus and to promote his domestic policy agenda.
In the 1-6 year timeframe, the President may believe that a bipartisan commission is the path with the best chance of brokering a bipartisan deal on the hard long-term fiscal policy decisions. Assuming good intentions, he may hope that he can then build upon a fledgling bipartisan agreement to create a legislative coalition that can succeed.
He may also think that a commission might fail because of opposition from the anti-tax Right. If it does, this would provide the President and his allies with an excuse to duck the hard long-term fiscal issues in the remainder of a first term: “I tried, but radical Republicans refused to compromise. What can I do?”
If Dr. Krugman turns this blog post into an ongoing drumbeat he can foul up that Presidential exit strategy in case the commission fails. If the Left attacks and kills the Commission’s chances for success, then Team Obama’s blame-Republicans-for-failure backup plan won’t work.
There is therefore a big difference between Dr. Krugman attacking Sen. Simpson for his substantive comments and Dr. Krugman declaring the commission dead. The first can be seen as vigorous/aggressive policy debate and may or may not be consistent with the President’s substantive views. The second is a threat to the President’s fiscal strategy.
To his credit, the President and his team have refused to take policy options off the table for the commission, even spending cut options which they might prefer not be a part of any solution. Now Team Obama needs to push back hard on anyone who tries to kill the Commission by asserting that it’s already dead.
Dr. Krugman is brazenly attempting to claim this authority. Without pushback from the President or his team, Dr. Krugman’s argument could quickly become a standard talking point for the Left.
I think the commission was structured unfairly. I fear the commission will produce recommendations that I oppose. I anticipate I will disagree as vigorously with the views of some commissioners as does Dr. Krugman with Sen. Simpson’s comments. I am skeptical the commission will succeed. At the same time, there is no other semi-plausible path to explore long-term fiscal solutions. I therefore hope the fiscal commission will have a chance to produce bipartisan recommendations and I think it is irresponsible for anyone to try to kill it before it does.