I promise you this is a true story even if it sounds way too convenient.
Last Wednesday I got an email challenging my comments about House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) poor decision to move ahead with changes in the congressional budget process. For those who don’t remember, I posted that there’s no doubt that the current system isn’t working and that changes are needed, but that the way Ryan was trying to do it wouldn’t work because he was putting the federal budget cart before the fiscal policy horse. The person who emailed me thought that the Ryan changes were good, that I was wrong (He used a very different word), and that my heritage needed to be questioned.
As I’ve said many times before, including in testimony before the House Rules Committee a number of years ago, you shouldn’t change the budget process until you know what you’re trying to accomplish. Once you get an agreement on that — reduce spending, lower the deficit, lower the debt, set revenues-to-GDP at a certain level, etc.) — it’s relatively easy to come up with a process that will get you there from here. Doing it the other way — process changes before there’s an agreement on the goal — is a sure way to get the process ignored, waived, or simply defied.
First needing a consensus on the goal seems like a difficult concept for many people to accept, especially those who, like the person who emailed me, think the process is the problem. I’ve struggled for years to come up with an easy-to-relate-to analogy that works.
That’s where the seemingly too convenient part comes in.
Last Wednesday, that is, on the same day I received the email challenging my budget process statements and family tree, I met Bob Harper, one of the trainers from the NBC show “The Biggest Loser,” (picture below and no, I didn’t see what he was eating) at a restaurant in Washington, D.C. It all came together when heard someone ask Bob for advice on which exercises he should do.
The answer is that your exercise program has to depend on what you’re trying to accomplish. Losing weight, building your upper body, increasing overall flexibility, or getting in shape to run a marathon are all worthy goals, but each requires a different program. Running 50 miles a week will help you get ready to race and may help with weight loss, but it won’t do as much for your upper body or core as a set of exercises specifically designed for those purposes.
The first thing you need to do o answer the question of which exercises you should do, therefore, is to determine what you want your fitness program to accomplish.
The same is true of the congressional budget process. There are literally hundreds of possible changes, but selecting a few without getting an agreement on what you’re trying to accomplish almost certainly will lead to unhappiness with what’s being done and get you to abandon the process.
That’s the federal budget equivalent of doing bicep curls to get ready for a marathon. Your arms will look great but you likely won’t be able to finish the race. At that point you more than likely will stop exercising.