Do Simpson and Bowles Matter?
posted at 4:07 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?