Do Simpson and Bowles matter?

posted at 8:11 pm on May 29, 2012 by Dustin Siggins

This morning, Reuters ran an article describing how Members of Congress are trying to work in a bipartisan manner to avoid “major” spending cuts (AKA modest spending cuts that are considered major in Washington) and tax increases starting in January 2013. From the article:

Former Democratic White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles said he and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, are working with a bipartisan group of 47 Senators and as many House members to frame a compromise on $7 trillion in looming fiscal decisions, Bowles said on CNN’s news program, “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”

This raises two questions: First, why should Americans trust that Congress will actually work together to create positive bipartisan solutions to these Washington-created problems? Over the last dozen years each party has both held the grips of power in Washington and had to work within situations of compromise. What do we have to show for it all? Over $10 trillion in debt; several wars and conflicts; expanded powers of the federal government in education, student loans, surveillance and health care; a federal government with the apparent right to assassinate citizens; a tax code riddled with exemptions; and unconstitutional violations of political and religious free speech. Almost all of this done through bipartisanship.

Here’s a recent and prime example of how bipartisanship often doesn’t work: Last year, compromise was the watchword of both parties, and this time they were going to be serious about job creation and deficit reduction. How did that go? Let’s see:

1. First, in April 2011 House Republicans went from aiming at $100 billion in spending reductions in a single year to $61 billion to $38 billion to about $352 million. Strike one.

2. In the spring and summer of 2011 Democrats and Republicans worked in the Gang of Six (as well as in other groups, though the Gang of Six received the vast majority of the media’s attention) to cut over $4 trillion from the deficits of the next ten years. This ended as the Budget Control Act, a compromise that “cut” approximately $2.1 trillion over ten years, a pitifully inadequate plan to keep us from going over the oncoming fiscal cliff. Strike two.

3. Within months of passage of the Budget Control Act compromise Members of Congress were trying to prevent those cuts through new legislation and political maneuvering. Democrats wanted to prevent the non-military cuts, and Republicans want to prevent the military budget cuts. Strike three.

4. The official unemployment rate is over eight percent, and is probably somewhere closer to eleven or twelve percent. This despite an ineffective (but bipartisan!) series of efforts in this Congress allegedly designed to reduce unemployment, including extending the deficit-creating payroll tax holiday. Strike four.

Unfortunately, this all leads to the second question: Would a Simpson-Bowles led compromise even be worth passing through Congress? While any deficit reduction is a good thing, we don’t need $3 trillion in deficit reduction, or $4 trillion or even $6 trillion in deficit reduction over ten years. We need to balance the budget in the next year or two, and never run a deficit again outside a time of official war. After all, even if current law stands and all sorts of taxes are raised and budget cuts are implemented, to the tune of up to $7 trillion over the next decade, the country is still expected to run annual deficits of at least $300 billion in each of those years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And that’s before the demographics of Social Security and Medicare really run away with the budget and send the nation off the proverbial fiscal cliff.

Simpson and Bowles have been making the TV circuit buzz and swoon for nearly two years, yet nothing has been passed by either party or either chamber of Congress that is a truly responsible, fiscally-prudent budget. Do these gentlemen really matter? Or is this merely part of the entertainment our media and politicians feed us as we spend our way into national oblivion?

This post was promoted from GreenRoom to HotAir.com.
To see the comments on the original post, look here.


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Do they matter? No…

OmahaConservative on May 29, 2012 at 8:16 PM

Ditto: they don’t matter… Only reducing spending matters…

Khun Joe on May 29, 2012 at 8:18 PM

Simpson is worth a chuckle when he gets his dander up about being ignored, but, no.
Not with the Obama pain train

AllahsNippleHair on May 29, 2012 at 8:20 PM

If Barackabama and Congress are going to ignore them, then so too shall I.

SouthernGent on May 29, 2012 at 8:22 PM

Do these gentlemen really matter? Or is this merely part of the entertainment our media and politicians feed us as we spend our way into national oblivion?

You really have to ask?

Cleombrotus on May 29, 2012 at 8:24 PM

NO

CatoRenasci on May 29, 2012 at 8:26 PM

I’ll join the chorus,…no.

Charlemagne on May 29, 2012 at 8:29 PM

Simpson and Bowles have been making the TV circuit buzz and swoon for nearly two years, yet nothing has been passed by either party or either chamber of Congress that is a truly responsible, fiscally-prudent budget. Do these gentlemen really matter?

Not anymore. Obama really blew a chance when he did not enthusiastically adopt the Simpson-Bowles report. Not that he would have approved anything but it was vague enough it would have given him top cover for some of the stuff he has done since then.

Happy Nomad on May 29, 2012 at 8:30 PM

Sadly, no.

SC.Charlie on May 29, 2012 at 8:31 PM

These self-important hacks have enjoyed our respect and patience for far too long. Flogging is too lenient for some of them. That Simpson and Bowles are involved is like saying “Don’t worry honey, Mr. Dahmer said he’d watch the kids for us.”

AubieJon on May 29, 2012 at 8:39 PM

These are the people that created the problems.

..and we’re supposed to suck it up, pay out our a$$es and give up what we have already paid for?

The answer is fairly ovious.

98ZJUSMC on May 29, 2012 at 8:45 PM

Simpson, that loud-mouthed hypocrite spent years and years with his snoot in then public trough and now, “…hey pal…” he pisses and moans that seniors want the benefits that were promised to them.

I say take congressional perks away, retroactive to about 1950, and cut salaries to prevailing wage for their home district. Then when members of Congress are in the same boat, we can discuss it.

Mr. Grump on May 29, 2012 at 8:49 PM

We need to balance the budget in the next year or two, and never run a deficit again outside a time of official war.

We see it. Why can’t Congress? Why can’t the President? Why can’t the majority of the media?

talkingpoints on May 29, 2012 at 8:52 PM

She Works Hard For The Money, But Democrat Senators Pay Her Less Than Her Male Co-Workers

http://predicthistunpredictpast.blogspot.com/2012/05/she-works-hard-for-money-but-democrat.html

M2RB: Donna Summer (RIP)

Resist We Much on May 29, 2012 at 8:53 PM

Implicit in your argument is that you believe that some solution that isn’t bipartisan would be “better” (defined in some way). But why do you say that? Why do you think a partisan solution would ever actually work?

Let’s assume Republicans enact the Ryan plan on day 1. Do you really think the government of 2023 is going to say “We better defer to the choices people made in 2013? I know you seniors would like Medicare, but a bunch of lawmakers long since gone agreed to this plan, so we won’t change it.” Of course not. Even if the Republicans wanted to, they aren’t going to maintain control of government for a decade. This wouldn’t happen even if they didn’t cut programs that have massive support even among the Republican electorate (let alone everyone else). It certainly won’t happen if they pass that plan. There is no way Democrats are going to worry about upsetting Republicans when deciding whether or not to repeal all of it; they’ll just do it.

Your plan is not quite the Ryan plan, but the differences make the political sustainability problem much larger. You want to balance the budget within a year or two. That would require gigantic, immediate Medicare cuts to all current beneficiaries. Do you really think the Republican party would remain a major political party in America were this to happen? Really? Not only would the Republican party be rendered irrelevant, but the very idea of “small government” would be discredited for a generation. Democrats would just have to say “this is what they mean by small government. Had enough yet?” Likely, they wouldn’t even have to say it, since whatever opposition party to the liberals in power would be falling all over themselves to repudiate past Republican policy.

This is why bipartisan solutions are relevant; it isn’t so much because of anything good or bad about them per se. It is that any partisan Republican solution is irrelevant (at least, in terms of actually getting enacted and staying enacted).

jd3181 on May 29, 2012 at 8:55 PM

There is no way Democrats are going to worry about upsetting Republicans when deciding whether or not to repeal all of it; they’ll just do it.

So you’re saying that if Republicans work together with Democrats on entitlement reform, we can expect the Democrats to show the same deference and long-term support that they gave to the bipartisan resolutions for the use of force in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fabozz on May 29, 2012 at 9:01 PM

They never mattered. All show to appease the morons of the world.

Conservative4Ever on May 29, 2012 at 9:18 PM

So you’re saying that if Republicans work together with Democrats on entitlement reform, we can expect the Democrats to show the same deference and long-term support that they gave to the bipartisan resolutions for the use of force in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Well, if there is a bipartisan agreement, there would be many Democrats and Republicans voting for it. That isn’t insignificant; remember John Kerry’s “voted before it before I voted against it,” “I support the war but not the execution” position was forced precisely because of his locked in votes at the time. And beyond that, there have been plenty of bipartisan agreements in the past that stuck for quite awhile (and even though some were changed by both parties when they were in power, they weren’t completely revamped).

But in the big picture, how much they trust the Democrats is not particularly relevant. I’m not saying that a partisan Republican solution would be “mean” or “divisive”; I’m saying that it isn’t an option at all (if they want it to remain law in subsequent Congresses). They don’t have a choice in the matter. We could debate how sustainable bipartisan solutions are, but it is somewhat irrelevant. Regardless of your thoughts on bipartisan solutions, a partisan Republican solution is itself an oxymoron (in the sense that something cannot be called a “solution” if it causes complete repeal and/or realignment).

Furthermore, a bipartisan solution mostly neutralizes attacks that the opposition would otherwise demolish the majority with. (See TARP, 2008.) This somewhat insulates it from future Congresses (or at least Congresses in the immediate future), since it reduces any potential wave-type election that would produce unified government entirely run by the opposition. Gridlock and inertia would protect the agreement in the short term, where the threat of repeal is higher.

To the extent any agreement is changed by either party, it would only be after a multi-election campaign of persuasion to voters (in order to convince the voters to give power to the party that wants changes). Minimizing the short term wave effects (by having a bipartisan solution) means that it would take much longer and be much tougher.

jd3181 on May 29, 2012 at 9:22 PM

..well, Simpson does because he likes donuts. Bowles, not so much.

The War Planner on May 29, 2012 at 9:36 PM

Simpson and Bowles have been making the TV circuit buzz and swoon for nearly two years,

…the dog and pony show originally put on by the commander-in-chef…that JugEars never ate…and they want us to eat Simpson’s Bowel’s now?

KOOLAID2 on May 29, 2012 at 9:52 PM

If Barackabama and Congress are going to ignore them, then so too shall I.
SouthernGent on May 29, 2012 at 8:22 PM

Ah, for accuracy’s sake, Obama did try to make the debt commissions findings and suggestions binding to votes in congress on the actions prescribed, it was congress in a wholly bipartisan smashing which voted down that requirement so the commission would mean nothing and neither side would have to take a stand on any issues and could instead continue to just play games, both sides hoping like a drunken boxer to land that just one great haymaker that brings them back to supermajority status so either side can stuff bs down our throats, like they always do.

Congress is worthless. Both sides. With an absolutely ineffectual number of worthwhile, honest representatives for the people with integrity.

And Barack Obama has no balls whatsoever when it comes to being a real man, a real leader, and a person the people of this country can look to, and trust.

We’ve got nobody. Nobody out there of any significance actually looking out for us or showing any real promise, real hope of getting there, or a shot in hell of really succeeding in becoming a capable steward of our nation in the highest realms of our government.

And it’s our fault, for being asleep through most of it, and allowing the media and it’s insatiable appetite for conflict, drama, and ratings whether on tv, the radio, or the internet take hold of the other half of the process in a maelstrom of profit motive infotainment.

This ladies and gentlemen, this day, this time, this moment, and all it encompasses and precludes is what we call, “reaping what you sow”.

And it’s a whirlwind. And it has long since passed the critical shutdown phase. There is no stopping it.

Careful folks, icebergs ahead.

Wish you all a wonderful evening with family and loved ones.

Boomer_Sooner on May 29, 2012 at 10:06 PM

To the extent any agreement is changed by either party, it would only be after a multi-election campaign of persuasion to voters (in order to convince the voters to give power to the party that wants changes).

Ohhh, now I get it. You’re saying that once they commit to bipartisan reform, the Democrats will only go back on their word after the kind of long-term campaign of voter persuasion they used to pass Obamacare.

Setting snark aside, here’s the fundamental truth you’re avoiding: The national Democratic Party has been hijacked by a narrow fringe of reactionaries with a Brezhnev-Doctrine-like commitment to holding every scrap of ground the Left has ever gained. The reactionary gang in charge of the Democratic Party today will not accept any modification to the Great Deal, let alone the New Deal, and will act without any procedural scruple to block reform at all costs. And thanks to McCain-Feingold, that cabal in charge of the party has enjoyed a decade of outsized control over the state-level parties, which is why Walker’s simple, common-sense reforms in Wisconsin were met with such a bizarre freakshow of spittle and bombast.

The kind of bipartisanship that made welfare reform possible was an artifact of the presence of culturally Democratic but ideologically center-right leaders within the party, and those politicians no longer exist. The Democratic Party has two kinds of leaders now: gerontocrats like Reid and Pelosi who have lost all touch with the real world, and far-left Ivy League elites like Obama and Schumer who have never spent a day of their lives in the real world.

There will be no bipartisan reform of any kind. In thrall to the gerontocrat-elitist cabal, the national Democrats will act in rigid lockstep to block any reform, demonstrating the same kind of ideological uniformity that they showed when passing Obamacare. Where they cannot block reform through procedural maneuvers, they will deploy vicious, hyperpartisan demagoguery of the kind they used against Bush. If Democrats seemingly to buck the cabal in sufficient numbers to actually pass a bill, that will be sure proof that the bill is so watered-down as to be useless, as we saw with the so-called supercommittee. As long as Pelosi, Reid and Obama are allowed to lead their party, you will know that the rank and file legislators continue to serve their agenda.

The only Democrats in this entire country who are taking the entitlement crisis remotely seriously are those who have been left no alternative: a scattering of mayors and governors whose constituencies have been so mugged by reality that they have no choice but to take hesitant steps away from the failed blue-state model. But such Democrats are not permitted any voice at the national level, except to ritualistically denounce themselves and parrot the cabal’s talking points as we saw Cory Booker forced to do.

There are thus only two ways reform can happen. The first is for Republicans to shove through a partisan bill, then defend it against counterassault long enough for the voters to see the benefits. That’s what Walker is trying to do, and we’ll learn in a week whether it has a chance of success.

The second is for the cabal’s running dogs to receive such a crushing string of electoral defeats that they conclude the national-party money they receive is not worth the lickspittle obedience they have to give in return. Only after that happens can reform-minded younger Democrats begin to rise in the party and push aside the gerontocrats, and only then is bipartisan reform at all possible. The Democrats managed to completely ignore the rebuke the voters delivered in 2010; we’ll learn in November whether the voters are ready to provide another rap on the nose to the running dogs, and if so whether they pay attention this time.

But those two paths are it. Either the cabalists are driven out of their party–which may take time we don’t have–or their party is ignored–which may take political capital we don’t have–or nothing is done and the Republic falls. There is no magical third path by which the cabal can be made to care more about the future than about their ideology: the gerontocrats won’t live to see it, and the Ivy Leaguers’ bubble won’t let them perceive it.

Fabozz on May 29, 2012 at 11:07 PM

Rumbling from our Bowles prior to movement.

Our first entrant in the scatological reference category.

These guys are totally irrelevant beyond being a footnote to someone’s insincere call for tough choice, accountability etc…beyond being a prop…meaningless.

R Square on May 30, 2012 at 12:12 AM

Ohhh, now I get it. You’re saying that once they commit to bipartisan reform, the Democrats will only go back on their word after the kind of long-term campaign of voter persuasion they used to pass Obamacare.

I didn’t mean to say that only Democrats might change the deal. Republicans would try as well. For example, we had bipartisan tax reform in 1986 that many on both sides believe was very successful. But that didn’t stop both parties from trying to change the tax code in the future. In any democracy, there is no way to set any policy in stone forever, and in most cases it doesn’t make sense. The point is that bipartisan agreement limits (through neutralizing many political attacks) the ability of either party to completely dominate for awhile, and this helps sustain the reform (in terms of inability to change it, and broader acceptance).

There are thus only two ways reform can happen. The first is for Republicans to shove through a partisan bill, then defend it against counterassault long enough for the voters to see the benefits. That’s what Walker is trying to do, and we’ll learn in a week whether it has a chance of success.

I really don’t think Walker’s reforms are analogous to the policies here. Walker’s reforms targetted a small percentage of the population. Dustin Siggins’s reforms target a huge percentage of voters (immediately and drastically); Ryan’s reforms are similar but more gradual. Either way, there is a huge difference between convincing most voters to take away other people’s benefits (particularly a small group), and convincing voters to take away their own benefits.

There will be no bipartisan reform of any kind. In thrall to the gerontocrat-elitist cabal, the national Democrats will act in rigid lockstep to block any reform, demonstrating the same kind of ideological uniformity that they showed when passing Obamacare.

I think that sweeps a bit broadly. I believe there can be bipartisan agreement on discretionary spending levels, Social Security, and tax reform. We already have agreement on discretionary spending levels for the next 10 years (as part of the debt deal). For Social Security, there has already been reform (in 1983) to make the actuarial math work (that achieved broad bipartisan support — not just from red state Democrats). So I don’t think that is impossible now; it is really not a hard problem. And for tax reform, both parties agree that they want to broaden the base (by closing exemptions/loopholes) and lower rates. The main disagreement is how much to allocate to rate lowering and how much to allocate to deficit reduction; Republicans want all of it to go to lowering rates, while Democrats want some to go to deficit reduction. But once Republicans move somewhat away from their “no new revenues” position, there is plenty of common ground.

The one aspect you are correct about (in one sense) is Medicare. At this point, there cannot be bipartisan consensus on health care; the parties are way too far apart. Republicans see health care as a “size of government” problem, when in reality it is a private sector cost problem. This has been known for deacdes (ever since Kenneth Aarow’s work on healthcare economics); the fact is that healthcare is different from all other markets, in ways that prevent the private sector from controlling costs on its own. This is why every modern country has the government stepping in and controlling health care cost growth.

There are plenty of ways of doing this, ranging from socialized medicine in Britain, to single payer in Canada, to private-but-regulated insurance/providers in Obamacare/Sweeden/the Netherlands, to a combination of health savings accounts for non-catestrophic expenses and government-provided catestrophic insurance in Singapore. Personally, I would be fine with something like Sweeden or Singapore (instead of Britain or Canada). But in every single modern industrialized nation, the government uses one of the above options (or a hybrid) to control costs. Because of the vastly different economics/incentives inherrent in the production and consumption of healthcare, government action to control costs in the private sector is a necessity. It is not a choice.

The Republican plan is essentially to not control costs at all, letting them continue to rise at multiple times the rate of inflation. (Increased competition among insurers in the Ryan plan might lower premiums at the margin, but it doesn’t even come close to solving the problem. The cost problem is mostly due to providers — not insurance companies.) The way Republicans reconcile not controlling costs with avoiding national bankruptcy is essentially to get government out of the healthcare business entirely (slowly, over many years). That’s what the Ryan plan does; it indexes growth of the premium support to a rate below health care costs, making the benefit exponentially decline in value (over time, to almost nothing).

As a political matter, that is utterly unsustainable. Seniors are not going to accept anything less than guaranteed health care, and everyone else is not going to accept unsustainable multiple-times-inflation health care cost growth (that simply cuts more and more into wages). Ryan can write whatever he wants into the bill; it doesn’t matter. The bill is a piece of paper, that will be torn to shreds by a subsequent Congress long before it has any real impact.

Once Republicans accept the need for government action to control private sector health costs, there is plenty of room for compromise. (Democrats thought they moved pretty far to the right by enacting the Republican presidential candidate’s healthcare plan, but even beyond that there is room to compromise.) But if Republicans continue to ignore the reality of the healthcare markets, and pretend that government can avoid regulating private sector health care costs in some way, there is obviously no room for compromise.

But this is an unstable equilibrium, unlike with Social Security/tax reform/spending levels. In those three areas, the issue is one of degree (and there is plenty of room to create the right balance). In healthcare, it is one of economics (instead of simply degree), and the current prevailing Republican understanding of healthcare economics is utterly incorrect. Republicans are going to have to completely abandon their “markets will solve everything” approach for healthcare, or they will eventually (likely within a decade, at current cost growth rates) find it impossible to get elected in any non-deep-red district/state. Their approach to dealing with healthcare is equivalent to smashing the thermometer against the wall, rather than addressing the underlying symptom. If they wait too long to change their views, they run the risk of a far more leftist healthcare system in the long run than they otherwise could have achieved.

jd3181 on May 30, 2012 at 12:19 AM

So what’s the point of this post? Yeah, we get it — bad things have been done by bipartisan majorities. But the article also claims that we need to balance the budget “in the next year or two.” Well, that requires massive and immediate reductions in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid spending (or raising taxes into the stratosphere). Explain to me how that is going to happen?

Bipartisan buy-in to that outcome is highly unlikely. And without it, there’s no chance at all of it happening (unless of course one party gets control of the WH, 60 votes in the Senate, control of the House — and suddenly overcomes all internal disagreement over whether to pursue sudden cuts of this magnitude).

So, yeah, passage of Simpson-Bowles would be a hell of a lot better than where we are now. The fiscal situation is too serious to waste our time venting and fantasizing.

Chuckles3 on May 30, 2012 at 8:29 AM

Ugh… I’m not retyping all of that again.

Ed, for the love of all that is good and holy, GET RID OF THE AUTO-REFRESH!!!!

gravityman on May 30, 2012 at 12:46 PM

Want to turn around the country?

Get rid of Congress.

And I mean the whole institution.

joey24007 on May 30, 2012 at 2:48 PM