Can today's Congress tell tomorrow's Congress what to do? No. Maybe. Sort of.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
July 14 2010 6:43 PM

Pelosi's Paradox

Can today's Congress tell tomorrow's Congress what to do? No. Maybe. Sort of.

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Ultimately, the only way to ensure that a future Congress follows orders—whether it's to eliminate the deficit or to punish banks or to implement immigration reform—is the old-fashioned way: Political pressure. Whether that pressure comes from K Street lobbyists or grass-roots campaigns, its purpose is to persuade Congress that this cause still matters. Deficit reduction will only happen if future Congresses are as scared of the issue as the present Congress. (The reasoning could go something like this: I don't like these tax hikes, either, but we need to do something about the deficit, and, besides, I didn't write this law.) Congress may not be able to bind itself, but politics can.

Correction, July 15, 2010: This article incorrectly stated that the "Cadillac" tax doesn't kick in until 2013. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Correction, July 15, 2010: This article stated that the presidential debt commission seeks to reduce the deficit to 69 percent of GDP by 2020. That is in fact the debt target. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

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Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.