We’re not serious. Yet.
Leaders of President Barack Obama’s bipartisan deficit commission on Wednesday proposed reducing the annual cost-of-living increases in Social Security, part of a bold plan to control $1 trillion-plus budget deficits…
As proposed, the plan by Chairman Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) doesn’t look like it can win support from 14 of the commission’s 18 members to force a debate in Congress. Bowles is a Democrat and was former President Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff.
Cuts to Social Security and Medicare are making some liberals on the panel recoil. And conservative Republicans are having difficulty with options on how to raise tax revenue. The plan also calls for cuts in farm subsidies, foreign aid and the Pentagon’s budget.
Lost in all the buzz this afternoon about the Bowles/Simpson blockbuster proposal (PDF here) is that this isn’t the Commission’s final recommendation, which is supposed to be presented to Obama in three weeks. This is merely Bowles’s and Simpson’s own plan, released publicly in hopes that the jolt from media coverage will pressure the rest of the Commission’s members into striking some sort of compromise before the deadline. It’s a conversation starter, in other words, except that the main subject of “conversation” thus far is how horrified the rest of the committee is by some of the recommendations:
“This is not a package that I could support,” Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, said during a break in a private meeting by the commission. She said any package able to win 14 votes on the panel would have to look “very different” from the options being discussed…
“We’re not going to have an up-or-down vote on this,” said Durbin. “There are proposals in there that are painful. I told them I said there are things in here which inspire me and other things which I hate like the devil hates holy water. I’m not going to vote for those things.”
Some Republicans also expressed skepticism that the report would survive in its current form. New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg called the plan a “starting point.” Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas said “some of it I like, some of it disturbs me.”
Mind you, this “starting point” has arrived some nine months after Obama created the Commission, which he did only after a congressional attempt to create a different deficit commission died in the Senate. As for the specifics of the proposal, Tapper has a full rundown here although I recommend his post mainly for the apocalyptic quotes from hysterical progressives furious at the thought of reforming Social Security or — gasp — reducing the highest income tax brackets, both of which are endorsed by Bowles/Simpson. Sample reaction from Obama pal and AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka: “The chairmen of the Deficit Commission just told working Americans to ‘Drop Dead.'”
TPM has a useful, detailed bullet-point summary of recommended spending cuts, tax increases, and entitlement reforms, but if you’re only interested in a broad overview, this CNN piece is better. Provisions to please conservatives: A huge tax overhaul, highlighted by a new top income tax bracket of just 23 percent; Social Security solvency via gradually raising the retirement age and reducing COLA; eliminating 10 percent of the federal work force by 2015; and various measures to slow the growth of Medicare. All in all, according to the Times, the plan calls for $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue increases. And yet…
Even with the dramatic proposals, the Bowles-Simpson plan would leave deficits of about $300 billion in 2015, the year by which Obama tasked the group with balancing the federal budget, except for interest payments on a national debt that now stands at $13.7 trillion. If the changes to Social Security are dropped, the deficit would be about $400 billion in 2015…
“We’ll both be in a witness protection program when this is all over, so look us up,” Simpson told reporters.
If anything, says Samuel Staley at NRO, the plan doesn’t go far enough. And yet, it’s already dead on arrival because of how far it is willing to go. In fact, think of it as the flip side of Paul Krugman’s eternal whining about how the stimulus really should have been $2 trillion or $100 trillion or whatever: We’re working within very narrow political parameters here, even with tea partiers flying the flag of fiscal responsibility, such that even more drastic-yet-effective remedies are simply unthinkable. Never mind the Social Security tweaks; what’s going to happen when even fiscal conservatives learn that Bowles and Simpson want to take away the deduction for mortgage interest payments and add 15 cents per gallon to the federal gas tax? See Ace’s sobering thoughts for that.
I’m all about conversation-starting when it comes to entitlement reform these days, so today’s news is a moral victory if nothing else. Now all we need to do is find someone, anyone, who’s seriously willing to have that conversation. I’ll leave you with this clip of incoming Rep. Kristi Noem, a tea party favorite who’s likely to end up as the freshman voice on the GOP’s leadership team. Skip ahead to 3:15. She won’t give Candy Crowley a flat “yes” when asked whether it’s time to cut Social Security.
Update: The sage of San Francisco, fresh off her total destruction at the polls last week, has decided that the Bowles/Simpson plan simply won’t do.