Bowing to Intransigence

02.19.13

Simpson-Bowles Rebaked

Simpson and Bowles have returned to the stage with a far worse plan than the one they had before. Their old formula sought $2.9 trillion in cuts and $2.6 trillion in revenues, while this new one that they touted at a Politico breakfast this morning seeks just $1.3 trillion in revenues and jacks the cuts up to $3.9 trillion.

The change is driven not so much by any kind of ideological shift or decision that we need more pain as it is driven, or so says Ezra Klein, by their apparent decision this time not to create their own new thing wholly from scratch irrespective of what the pols are saying, but to use Obama's and Boehner's latest offers as sort of starting points and guides:

This isn’t meant to be an update to Simpson-Bowles 1.0. Rather, it’s meant to be an outline for a new grand bargain. To that end, Simpson and Bowles began with Obama and Boehner’s final offers from the fiscal cliff deal. That helps explain why their tax ask has fallen so far: Obama’s final tax ask was far lower than what was in the original Simpson-Bowles plan, while Boehner’s tilt towards spending cuts was far greater than what was in the original Simpson-Bowles.

That said, while this plan doesn’t include more tax increases than Obama asked for, it does include significantly more than the $1 trillion in spending cuts than Boehner asked for — about $500 to $700 billion more, if I’m reading it right. In increasing the total deficit reduction, Simpson and Bowles have put the weight on the spending side of the budget.

But why would they shift so dramatically in the Republicans' direction? Derek Thompson of The Atlantic sees two reasons:

First, there aren't enough people in Washington who want to raise taxes on anybody making less than $250,000 to make the original $2.6 billion figure work. Second, Congress has demonstrated a fairly strong appetite for scheduling budget cuts.

Well, alas, he's undoubtedly right about that. But really, this is not to be taken seriously. I'm not usually part of the Entitlement Chicken Little Caucus, because I concede that something needs to be done, provided that "something" is first and foremost to change the way Medicare reimbursements are made, which would save many trillions over the years, and then see what else needs to be done. But to be "responsible" people inside the Beltway you must thirst for seniors and future seniors and poor people and future poor people to sacrifice more. Simpson and Bowles are just playing to that peanut gallery, for which a Politico breakfast is the perfect audience.

One might generously say that Simpson and Bowles are just bowing to the extant political reality. But I thought their job was suggest the most responsible way forward. They of all people should be standing up to GOP intransigence, not accepting it.