The so-called super committee of members of Congress is supposed to come up with $1.5 trillion in budget savings as part of the deal to lift the debt ceiling.
Friday is the last day to suggest to this committee where to find those cuts.
But it's hard to take the super committee seriously, given its relatively modest goals. (Independent analysts say that $4 trillion in savings are needed to make a real difference in the budget).
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If the committee were serious, it would make big proposals to curb entitlements, change the tax system, and limit defense spending -- since entitlements, tax cuts, and defense (combined with rising debt service) are the heart of the country's budget problem.
But since they're not going to do that sort of thing, what should they do?
Here are three unserious suggestions for an unserious committee.
1. Protect federal discretionary spending by eliminating it entirely -- and adding back everything you want to keep into the defense budget.
Put simply, few politicians -- and almost no Republicans -- will cut anything that's labeled as defense.
Liberals who want to preserve discretionary spending on things like the arts would be wise to embrace this strange logic instead of fighting it -- and simply add money to the defense budget.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is keeping America safe, after all.
2. Call in California.
There almost certainly will be gimmicks in whatever the super committee puts forward -- as a way of avoiding real, politically difficult cuts to programs or tax increases.
No one knows how to do budget gimmicks like the folks in Sacramento.
DC doesn't have the expertise because the federal govenrment can always print money and run deficits. California can't do that--at least officially.
But wait until the folks from Sacramento show up and teach the boys at Treasury about pension obligation bonds, lottery securitization, and California-style cash management. It'll be awesome.
The hot California idea in budget avoidance is the use of triggers. Here, we assumed in the latest budget that we'll get $4 billion in additional revenues. If revenue estimates this December falls $1 billion short of those estimates, then cuts are triggered.
Maybe. Unless everyone gets cold feet or cooks up a phony estimate.
This would be perfect for Washington. They could handle the $1.5 trillion problem they were asked to design with one big trigger. Just assume $1.5 trillion in additional revenues, and then set up cuts that trigger in the future if more than a quarter of that revenue -- say $400 billion -- doesn't show up.
Voila -- mission accomplished, and no one gets hurt. (Except the Truth and the Future).
Fun with numbers!
More on the super committee: