That’s the long-forgotten blueprint for reducing the
federal debt and balancing the budget. It was crafted by a
bipartisan, 18-member commission headed by former Sen.
Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, and Democrat
Erskine Bowles, former White House chief of staff for
President Clinton. These men, political polar opposites,
began work eight years ago in 2010, agreed to a plan, and
published the first of their proposals in early 2013.
Since then, our numbskulls in Washington and other legislative
environs have dithered and sidestepped while their
donors-in-chief craft the talking points of avoidance.
Simpson-Bowles was a gift, something for the Congress
to consider seriously, a starting point. It was the agreed
product of a special panel drawn from all corners of the
American political and economic spectrum. It seemed to
fit the government and the economy well for advancing
plans to reduce the federal debt.
Under Simpson-Bowles, spending for the “Big Four” –
Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid and Military Spending
– would be cut significantly; taxes were to increase, if
only to begin paying down the debt for two wars launched
in 2001 and financed on credit. Simpson-Bowles outlined
in spectacular detail how this could be done, and with
proposed resolutions for a considerable list of obstacles.
Among those details were proposals for equitable reforms
of each of the Big Four, plus measures to achieve certain,
rather painless tax increases.
It was an opportunity. But as we have said, when opportunity
knocks, the Congress waits for it to knock again,
then heads for a rear exit.
Congress might, at last, make itself useful. It could dust
off the best of Simpson Bowles, then get out of the way
while the real work begins. The alternative is more of the
same, more marking time, more neglect, more bickering.
And now we have the added lug of a so-called “tax
reform” that adds to the very debt that Simpson Bowles
was intended to resolve with meticulous effect.
Must everything congressional hinge on election polling
and donor-scripted talking points? A sound plan for deficit
reduction has been on the table for five years, and the best
Congress can muster is tax relief for the rich and more debt
for the rest of us.
Telling it as it is
Alan Simpson, the retired Republican senator from
Wyoming, often spoke plainly, refreshingly, about politics,
the economy and Washington culture. He and co-chair
Erskine Bowles are celebrated for the frank and thorough
investigation – the National Commission on Fiscal
Responsibility and Reform – and report on the federal
debt and deficit, and how to confront them including, yes,
a tax increase. Simpson was a guest on C-SPAN several
years ago when a woman called with a rant about federal
Simpson replied. For decades, he said, voters sent
people to Washington “to bring home the bacon.” Get me
that dam, get me that highway, bring me that airport, get
me those crop subsidies, bring me a YMCA, get me the
bridge, the park, the hospital.
“They have all gone to Washington forever to bring
home the bacon,” Simpson said. “Let me tell you, there
ain’t no more bacon. The pig is dead.”
Not yet, it seems.