Responsibility is an endangered species inside the Beltway, but cowardice seems to be thriving.  Any time our politicians are afraid to address a sensitive subject, they either wait for their opposition to act first, or they punt the ball down the road.  Continuing resolutions are good examples.  When none of the above works, what better way to say, “It wasn’t me,” than to hold a summit or form a commission to study the problem.

Untold number of summits and commissions have been formed in the past, so that no one has to actually take responsibility for recommending an unpopular solution.  Every President in my lifetime has formed a commission or held a summit for one problem or the other, cause God knows no one wants to risk losing the next election and having to get a real job.

We had several of these famous obfuscations in recent history.  Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Social Security Reform gave President George H.W. Bush cover so that he could increase taxes, violating his own “No new taxes” pledge, and likely contributing to his defeat by Bill Clinton.  There was Obama’s Health Care Summit, which was President Obama’s attempt to fool the public into believing he was listening to the concerns of Republicans.  You know, that whole “elections have consequences.  I won.” thing.

Almost universally the results of summits or commissions is a nice big bill for taxpayers and nothing ever changes.  Last year we received the report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.  President Obama formed the commission to prove he was actually concerned about the national debt that ballooned during the first two years of his administration.  Obama likes summits and commissions almost as much as czars and golf.  A detailed report from the commission suggested solutions that are very similar to what Congressman Paul Ryan recently submitted for a 2012 budget.  In order for the Commission report to receive a vote in Congress 14 or the 18 members on the commission had to vote in the affirmative on the report.  Having achieved less than 14 votes, what we have is a nice big report, no votes and nothing has changed.  Tens of millions of dollars spent and not so much as an honest discussion because there’s always another election just around the corner.

Now there are calls for a new budget summit to discuss 2012 and beyond budgeting and debt reduction.  Want to venture a guess on what the outcome of such a summit would be?  Expect lots of hand wringing, words of concern and talk of reducing discretionary spending, but nothing to address the 3 major components of our debt, the big entitlement programs: Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.  2012 is an election year and there’s not a single member of the House that is going to step on any of those land mines.  Should there be a few brave enough souls to tread on that quicksand and you can be sure there won’t be enough followers that’ll risk their congressional pension, which in the House requires you get re-elected at least twice.  Senators qualify for their pension after serving a single term.

So what’s the point?  Political cover.  For some reason those who hold national office seem to think that showing how much they care is as good as actually fixing anything.  The worst offender is the President himself.  As long as re-election trumps correcting problems the outcome will always be the same.

You have to give credit to Rep. Paul Ryan and the House Republicans for approving a budget that at least does something to change the trajectory of the problem, though it is far from a solution.  The President offered up a budget with virtually no details other than to raise taxes.  At least the Democrats in Congress and the President are on the same tax and spend agenda; that should help ensure that Mr. Obama has time to work on his Presidential Library after next November. 

Meanwhile Standard & Poor just downgraded the U.S. credit outlook foreshadowing a major credit crisis if we don’t act immediately.  Long term U.S. bonds holders could potentially move out of U.S. securities because of the inaction of our elected officials.  If this happens we may be facing runaway inflation.  Probably should have a summit on that too.

If you can’t make your mortgage, call the bank and let them know you’re holding a summit on realigning your cash flow.  When the guy shows up to repossess your car, just tell him he can’t take it until you get the report from your debt commission.  Let me know how that works out for you.  It seems to work pretty well for our elected officials.