If government could make money each time it reinvents the wheel there would be no such things as deficits and debt. Whether it’s at your town hall, the State House or the halls of Congress, a forest of trees has been cut to print reports and recommendations from commissions, task forces and study groups that are gathering dust on shelves.
Congress and the president avoided bumping their heads on the debt ceiling last week but essentially left the tough choices on cuts to a “super” congressional committee. Rather than break out the hammer and anvil to forge yet another wheel, the committee should begin with the Bowles-Simpson plan.
Last year, President Barack Obama created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. It was led by Erskin Bowles, who worked for Morgan Stanley and was chief of staff in the second Clinton White House, and Alan Simpson, who served for 18 years as the Republican senator from Wyoming.
The results of their inquiry into debt reduction were released late last year.
Among its highlights are deep cuts in military and domestic spending, lowering or eliminating tax breaks in exchange for lower tax rates, benefit cuts and higher retirement age for Social Security and a 15-cent phased ramp-up of the federal gas tax.
The Bowles-Simpson plan called for the changes to take effect after the 2012 elections for obvious reasons. In all, the plan was projected to erase almost $4 trillion in deficits through 2020.
Both liberals and conservatives in Congress shot it down.
Now, the “super” committee must outline the same sort of cuts Bowles-Simpson already identified. Its biggest stumbling blocks going forward with its deficit battle plan are likely to be Social Security and Medicare (who wants to be associated with cutting programs that affect seniors?), defense cuts (soft on national security, are we?) and eliminating tax breaks (no more deductions for the kiddos or a home mortgage?). This is why members of both parties can take cover behind the Bowles-Simpson plan.
Another option that might take politics out of the actual plan, if not the votes on it, could gather a handful of members from each party and each body who are not seeking re-election or election to a higher office. Let them do the dirty work behind closed doors, even. Let their work be presented as a thumbs up or thumbs down proposal. The president, whose leadership has been weak throughout the debt debate, could pledge to sign any plan that wins majority approval.
Once a singular plan emerges, its supporters must sell it to the public first and worry about tallying votes later.
Elected representatives should be able to compromise on such matters, but given their hypersensitivity to being held accountable for votes, they are reluctant to do so. That’s why the best way forward is a plan developed outside the wells of the House and Senate.