President Obama and congressional Democrats reached an agreement on Tuesday night to appoint a bipartisan commission. The Washington Post reports: "Under the agreement, President Obama would issue an executive order to create an 18-member panel that would be granted broad authority to propose changes in the tax code and in the massive federal entitlement programs—including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security—that threaten to drive the nation's debt to levels not seen since World War II."
But the bipartisan nature of the panel ensures that it will be doomed to failure. The GOP, as currently constructed, is incapable of dealing honestly with the fiscal situation it largely created. It has no political incentive to do so. The only demographic unit it won in 2008 was the elderly. It's now Republican orthodoxy that any cuts in Medicare, or even reductions in the rate of growth of spending, are death panels. Social Security reform is a nonstarter for the same reason. Budgets for defense and veterans are likewise off limits. Which leaves Medicaid and discretionary spending. You can't cut those enough to make a meaningful dent in the deficit—especially if you oppose the reversion of taxes to their 2001 levels. That's Republican orthodoxy, too. If the Republicans are on the inside, they'll gum it from within, as they did with Baucus and health care. And if they're on the outside, they'll try not to let it come to a vote. I'm not sure I see what's in it for Obama and the Democrats.