The Campaign Spot

To Everything There Is a Season, Even Bipartisan Commissions

I rolled my eyes a bit when John McCain called for a 9-11-style commission to investigate the causes of the Wall Street mess. (Kathryn details Obama’s new-found opposition to having commissions study issues like Social Security (11/2007)torture (9/2007), war crimes (8/2008), and financial oversight for Wall Street (4/2008). When you’ve called for basically the exact same proposal, I would try to avoid calling that proposal “the oldest Washington stunt in the book.” )

But I would note that there are circumstances in which a commission can be handy — i.e., when the right course of action is clear but unpopular and politically risky. When a respected bipartisan commission offers that unpopular but needed remedy, it provides political cover for nervous lawmakers — “I realize that this proposal wasn’t the solution people wanted to hear, but the Commission said it was absolutely necessary, and their expertise and unanimous agreement are clear.”
You’re going to see a lot of companies, interest groups, lawyers representing class-action suits, etc., knocking on the Treasury’s door chanting, “bail us out, bail us out!” The temptation for Congress and the president to look “decisive” and “compassionate” will be enormous. No one wants to be the one saying, “Let ‘em fail, even if that means lots of people lose their jobs.” Even if the market can’t start bouncing back until it hits bottom (particularly the housing market). This pain is like peeling off a band-aid – we can get through it quickly, or we can get through it slowly.
No bipartisan commission will be formed anytime soon. But it isn’t such a terrible idea, if there’s a danger that Congress could make things worse by adopting some terrible idea – say, Barney Frank’s plan to have Uncle Same purchase the mortgages least likely to be paid back.

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