## Is This a Congressional Joke?

Senator Conrad voted for Medicare Part D. Senator Gregg voted for the Bush tax cuts. Of the $36 trillion Auerbach-Orszag present-value fiscal gap through 2080$11 trillion is due to the Bush tax cuts and \$6 trillion is due to Medicare Part D. Eliminate those two fiscal policy mistakes, and our long-run (out to 2080) fiscal problem is half the size.

Isn't the easiest thing--and the most obvious thing, and the most constructive thing--Senators Conrad and Gregg could do in order to help fix the deficit is for them to stop making it worse? Isn't the obvious thing for them to resign, and as they resign to tell Americans that they should never elect senators like them again?

Yet now come Senators Kent Conrad and Judd Gregg dressed up in the feathers of deficit hawks:

Colloquy Between Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad and Budget Committee Ranking Member Judd Gregg On the Bipartisan Task Force on Responsible Fiscal Action Act

December 10, 2009

Mr. Conrad: This is the headline from "Newsweek" December 7. In fact, it was a cover story: "How Great Powers Fall. Steep debt, slow growth, high spending kill empires -- and America could be next." If you go to the story -- and, by the way, interestingly enough, this is on December 7, Pearl Harbor day. If you go into the story that's in the magazine, it says -- and I quote -- "This is how empires decline. It begins with a debt explosion. It ends with an inexorable reduction in the resources available for the Army, Navy, and Air Force ... If the United States doesn't come up soon with a credible plan to restore the federal budget to balance over the next five to 10 years, the danger is very real that a debt crisis could lead to a major weakening of American power." All we have to do is look at the facts. This shows the debt of the United States from 2001 projecting to 2019....

I hope people are listening. I hope they're paying attention. I hope our colleagues are. A group of us yesterday introduced legislation to confront this debt threat head-on. There are now 31 cosponsors of that legislation: 18 Republicans, 13 Democrats....

It is going to take a special process, a special commitment of the members here and representatives of the Administration to develop a plan that gets us back on track. And it is going to take a special process to bring that plan to this floor for a vote, up or down. That holds, I believe, the best prospects for success. I believe this is a defining moment for this Chamber, for this Congress, for this Administration....

Mr. Gregg: Mr. President?

The Presiding Officer: The Senator from New Hampshire.

Mr. Gregg: It is an honor to join with the Chairman of the Budget Committee. We've worked together for awhile and have a piece of legislation which accomplishes the goals as they have been outlined by the Senator from North Dakota, and that's good news. And really the outpouring of support here in the Senate -- over 31 co-sponsors in just a very short time -- is a sign they are willing to move in this area, and that's good news. Right now in this country, after the possibility of a terrorist getting a weapon of mass destruction and using it against us somewhere here in the United States, the single biggest threat that we face as a nation is the fact that we're on a course toward fiscal insolvency...

I am--in normal times--a deficit hawk. I think the right target for the deficit in normal times is zero, with the added provision that when there are foreseeable future increases in spending shares of GDP we should run a surplus to pay for those foreseeable increases in an actuarially-sound manner. I think this because I know that there will come abnormal times when spending increases are appropriate. And I think that the combination of (a) actuarially-sound provision for future increases in spending shares and (b) nominal balance for the operating budget in normal times will create the headroom for (c) deficit spending in emergencies when it is advisable while (d) maintaining a non-explosive path for the debt as a whole.

But when I look at Senators Conrad and Gregg, I don't recognize fellow members of my species. They may be glueing the feathers of deficit hawks onto themeselves, but they are birds of a very different order--doves, turkeys, chickens, whatever, but I hope they are dodos.