Alleged "deficit hawk" Senator George Voinovich, who voted for every budget submitted by unrepentent spender George W. Bush, has found a new way to crow about his phony credentials. He's signed on to Senators Kent Nelson and Judd Gregg's Talk About the Deficit A Lot — Like A Lot A Lot — We're Totally Serious This Time Bipartisan Task Force. From Voinovich's press release:

The legislation is closely modeled after Sen. Voinovich’s own Securing America’s Future Economy (SAFE) Commission Act. As an original co-sponsor of the new bill, he looks forward to working with his colleagues to promote meaningful budget reform in the coming weeks.

“I have long said that our increasing national debt is the biggest challenge facing our nation today. For too long, I felt alone in the desert in my calls for reform — but I have finally found an oasis,” Sen. Voinovich said. “I am grateful for the leadership of Senators Conrad and Gregg for taking action, and I was happy to help move this issue forward. It doesn’t take an economist to realize that our course is unsustainable. Our crushing debt is doing harm to the economy, affecting our footing in the international community, and hurting America’s ability to do business and create much-needed jobs.”

Sounds great — and that's exactly the point. These earnest men are deeply committed to their goal, which is to make you believe that they're serious about accomplishing something. They're not, as the Washington Post's Ezra Klein explains:

The Conrad-Gregg commission will have 18 members [eight Democrats, eight Republicans and two administration officials] and require the agreement of 14 of them before it produces recommendations. Those will then require a supermajority not only in the Senate, but also in the House, where no such mandate exists. This is the legislative equivalent of cooking a meal with one hand tied behind your back. The process is harder than usual and rich with new veto points. It's as if Conrad and Gregg concluded that reducing the deficit is too easy and that Congress needed a challenge.

It's also worth noting here that it was Senator Gregg who recently advised his fellow Republicans to bring the Senate to a screeching halt with

"time consuming motions to establish a quorum," reading the full text of amendments out loud, making points of order "with or without cause," in which "delay is created by the two roll call votes," offering "an unlimited number of amendments --germane or non-germane -- on any subject," dividing amendments that contain two or more parts "to extend consideration of a measure," and other similar efforts to obstruct the work of the Senate.

And in this environment, a commission is going to find enough common ground on taxation and spending to win super-duper majorities in both houses?

You have a commission proposing a package of highly unpopular legislative changes. And, in addition to having to surmount the 60-vote barrier in the Senate, which is nearly insurmountable for major legislation and which was avoided for both of the last two major deficit-reducing bills, it's also going to impose a new supermajority requirement in the House and a 78% threshold in the commission itself?

To say that this procedure "is designed to get results" shows a very odd understanding of American political institutions. Conrad and Gregg seem to think that instituting major reforms in the public interest is rare because the threshold for passing legislation is too low. Thus they've designed a process that creates new and higher supermajority requirements, on an issue where getting even 51% to sign on is probably impossible. And if that fails, maybe they'll conclude the process was too easy. Next time they could also require the commission members to create a cold fusion reactor or retrieve a magical ring from inside a volcano.

And the senior senator from Ohio is falling over himself to "me too!" his way into this cynical charade. Klein again: "If you're a deficit hawk, it's arguably worse than nothing, as it will make people think something is being done when nothing is actually happening.

We've asked before, more than once, but seriously, can someone please explain why Voinovich is widely hailed as a moderate? — Frank Lewis

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