Politicians, don't 'Just Say No' to the Bowles-Simpson recommendations

Politicians from the left and right have responded with knee-jerk objections to the report from the co-chairs of President Obama's deficit commission. It's time for the adult conversation to begin.

Illustration / Tim Goheen / Newscom / File
Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, co-chairs of President Obama's bipartisan deficit commission, released a plan to increase revenues and cut spending. In response, members from both parties have denounced the plan.

[Editor's note: The referenced CNN clip can be viewed here.]

Ronald Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman, was on CNN last night, telling it like it is about the tough choices necessary to rein in our nation’s currently-unsustainable budget deficits. (Here’s a related recent interview of him by 60 MinutesLesley Stahl.) He’s no sitting politician, nor a political hack, of course. Among those who are, we are already getting the “attack and cower” reaction to the Bowles-Simpson recommendations that came out yesterday, as described in Lori Montgomery’s story in today’s Washington Post:

[T]he reaction was harsh in some quarters, particularly among liberals who have vowed to protect retirees from any reduction in benefits. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the plan “simply unacceptable.”

Speaker-in-waiting John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) declined to comment, saying he would discuss the plan with his three representatives on the panel. But Republican anti-tax activist Grover Norquist was not happy and warned that Republicans who support the proposal would be breaking their pledge not to raise taxes.

The “just say no” attitude is no longer acceptable. Bowles and Simpson confronted the real tradeoffs and made their tough but specific choices. People can legitimately disagree with the particular mix of policies they propose; for example, I think revenues need to come up by more than the 21 percent of GDP they allow, so that there would be more balance between the spending cuts and the revenue increases. But if people object to the plan, they need to suggest real alternatives. (I would prefer we don’t drop marginal tax rates so much and that we consider new sources of revenue beyond the broader definition of taxable income, so that more of the added revenue is used for deficit reduction and less for lowering tax rates.)

Today the Wall Street Journal asks (emphasis added) “What should be dropped from the deficit reduction panel’s draft proposal?” But that’s not the right question to be asked of the American people or of our policymakers. The right question is: “How would you rather do it?”–i.e., what would you substitute in the proposal? (Not “how would you rather (continue to) NOT do anything?”)

And here’s Concord’s official reaction to the Bowles-Simpson recommendations. The bottom line:

“Many people have been calling for a serious conversation about these issues. The bipartisan reports now beginning to circulate will test whether that desire is real or simply an excuse for inaction,” [Concord Coalition executive director Robert L.] Bixby said.

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