Thursday, December 02, 2010

This blog supports the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Plan and I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.

UPDATED: 12/3/2010
Last spring President Obama chartered the bi-partisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to develop a comprehensive solution to our impending debt crisis. On Wednesday they released their final report. The 18 member commission met to review and publicly comment on the report. The entire commission will vote on Friday whether to adopt the plan. If 14 of the 18 members vote in favor, the plan will be offered for debate and a vote on the floor in both houses of Congress. This plan deserves that debate and vote. The American people deserve to hear Congress debate this plan.

I read the plan and watched some of the commission meeting on c-span. I can't find the video or transcript of the meeting, but will update this post with a clip and quotes if/when I track down the video or transcript. In the meantime, a couple of choice paragraphs from report Preamble:

"Our challenge is clear and inescapable: America cannot be great if we go broke. Our businesses will not be able to grow and create jobs, and our workers will not be able to compete successfully for the jobs of the future without a plan to get this crushing debt burden off our backs...

As members of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, we spent the past eight months studying the same cold, hard facts. Together, we have reached these unavoidable conclusions: The problem is real. The solution will be painful. There is no easy way out. Everything must be on the table. And Washington must lead...

The President and the leaders of both parties in both chambers of Congress asked us to address the nation’s fiscal challenges in this decade and beyond. We have worked to offer an aggressive, fair, balanced, and bipartisan proposal – a proposal as serious as the problems we face. None of us likes every element of our plan, and each of us had to tolerate provisions we previously or presently oppose in order to reach a principled compromise. We were willing to put our differences aside to forge a plan because our nation will certainly be lost without one...

After all the talk about debt and deficits, it is long past time for America’s leaders to put up or shut up. The era of debt denial is over, and there can be no turning back. We sign our names to this plan because we love our children, our grandchildren, and our country too much not to act while we still have the chance to secure a better future for all our fellow citizens."
Let me be clear. There are a million and one things wrong with this plan. Whole sections are completely ass-backwards. There are not enough cuts, health care is not dealt with adequately, and... I could go on. As Erskine Bowles says - everyone can find a reason to be against this plan. It is not libertarian and it is not liberal and it is not conservative and it is not Democratic and it is not Republican. No one but no one is going to like it. But we have to face reality. This country is fucked if we don't get our fiscal house in order.
An outline of plan elements:
The plan has six major components:
  1. Discretionary Spending Cuts: Enact tough discretionary spending caps to force budget discipline in Congress. Include enforcement mechanisms to give the limits real teeth. Make significant cuts in both security and non-security spending by cutting low-priority programs and streamlining government operations. Offer over $50 billion in immediate cuts to lead by example, and provide $200 billion in illustrative 2015 savings.
  2. Comprehensive Tax Reform: Sharply reduce rates, broaden the base, simplify the tax code, and reduce the deficit by reducing the many “tax expenditures”—another name for spending through the tax code. Reform corporate taxes to make America more competitive, and cap revenue to avoid excessive taxation.
  3. Health Care Cost Containment: Replace the phantom savings from scheduled Medicare reimbursement cuts that will never materialize and from a new long-term care program that is unsustainable with real, common-sense reforms to physician payments, cost-sharing, malpractice law, prescription drug costs, government-subsidized medical education, and other sources. Institute additional long-term measures to bring down spending growth.
  4. Mandatory Savings: Cut agriculture subsidies and modernize military and civil service retirement systems, while reforming student loan programs and putting the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation on a sustainable path.
  5. Social Security Reforms to Ensure Long-Term Solvency and Reduce Poverty: Ensure sustainable solvency for the next 75 years while reducing poverty among seniors. Reform Social Security for its own sake, and not for deficit reduction.
  6. Process Changes: Reform the budget process to ensure the debt remains on a stable path, spending stays under control, inflation is measured accurately, and taxpayer dollars go where they belong.
Retiring Senator and commission member Judd Gregg on the plan:

Why would any of the commission members not vote in favor of this plan being debated in Congress? Why would the President not cajole Congress to debate and vote the plan from the very commission he created? Even assuming something were to eventually passed, it is not likely to bear any resemblance to the original commission plan once through the legislative sausage grinder. On the other hand, if there is no meaningful action it is a certainty that we are really not going to like the unforeseeable and unpredictable emergency measures that will be required when our economic house of cards comes tumbling down. Is it too much to ask our representatives and leaders to get ahead of the problem?

This plan solves the debt problem. It doesn't do it the way I'd like to see it done. But it solves the problem. It doesn't do it the way you would like to see it done. But it solves the problem. Did I mention that it solves the problem? Yes, it solves the problem. So, speaking for me, I'll take this medicine, even if I have to choke it down. The plan has my [erck... kaf...] full support.

UPDATE: 3-Dec-2010

The commission voted 11-7 in favor of the plan, 3 votes short of the 14 vote super-majority needed to trigger a floor vote and debate in both the House and Senate. I am disappointed that we may not see that vote and debate, but encouraged by the significant bipartisan majority that voted for the plan. This is how the vote broke down:

11 Yes Votes
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.) David Cote, the CEO of Honeywell International, Ann Fudge, the former CEO of Young & Rubicam Brands, Alice Rivlin, the former director of the Office of Management & Budget, commission co-chairs Sen. Alan Simpson (former Republican senator from Wyoming), and Erskine Bowles, (who served as chief of staff to President Clinton).

7 No Votes
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Reps. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), David Camp (R-Mich.), Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) , Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) Former Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern.

Some of these votes were predictable, Andy Stern was never going to vote for anything other than more tax increases and holding the line on entitlements. The SEIU will always put their gravy train ahead of country. Paul Ryan is the most disappointing vote for me (as well as others). He should have voted "yes" to move the debate to the floor. His reasoning was that the plan did not adequately deal health care costs. That was a poor excuse. The Obamacare abomination can and will be dealt with separately.

Depending on who you read, the commission vote was a failure, success, or something in between. I'll go with the last, as I like the way Ezra Klein summed it up:
"With liberals like Durbin and conservatives like Tom Coburn both endorsing the plan as a good start, it's got enough credibility for Congress or the president to take it on -- and that's really all it could ever have done. If Congress and the president want an excuse to work on deficit reduction, they've got one. If they don't want to work on deficit reduction, then no plan ever had a chance.

A few weeks ago, I said the fiscal commission had failed in its political mission. I was wrong. It didn't succeed in securing the consensus vote it needed, but it got a lot closer than I thought it would, and I think close enough for the commission's purposes. Now it's up to the relevant politicians, as, in the end, it always was."
True. But politicians won't move unless the American people make them move. They'll need to feel a palpable public mood for real change. I hope it is there.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

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