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In late 2010, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the chairmen of President Obama’s bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, introduced a plan to reform both taxes and spending in Washington D.C. that would put the nation onto a path of balanced budgets and a falling national debt. At the time, the plan went nowhere due to a lack of support by President Obama, an action that former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan later described as the President’s worst mistake.
Writing at Townhall, Guy Benson surveys today’s situation with respect to the so-called “fiscal cliff” and wonders if that plan might not be a way to break the political log jam:
Democrats appear to have the upper hand on the politics of the fiscal cliff, which might explain their brash pronouncements and mind-blowing conceptualization of “compromise.” This morning I outlined three possible contingencies for Republicans, none of which is especially attractive. But is there a fourth way? The GOP’s dilemma is a doozy. Their opponents, emboldened by the election, are pushing for counter-productive tax hikes on “the rich” — a politically popular proposition at the moment — while offering almost nothing meaningful in return. Meanwhile, Democrats’ allies in the media have been crafting a ‘Republicans-as-stubborn-obstructionists’ narrative for years. To a large extent, they’ve been successful; Republicans are poised to bear the brunt of an irate public’s blame if a fiscal cliff deal doesn’t get cut. Voters either don’t know or don’t care about the details. As the story goes, Obama wants a “balanced” deal, and House Republicans are the only people standing in the way of averting economic disaster. Thus, Obama is holding the public relations high card. This is why he feels liberated to shoot for the moon by serving up absurd “deals;” as he sees it, if Republicans walk away, we all go over the cliff, and the media will beat Republicans to a pulp until they either (a) relent and give away the farm or (b) get crushed in 2014.
Short on good options, here’s one play GOP leaders might be able to make to regain some of the high ground and throw the White House back on its heels: Embrace Simpson/Bowles. President Obama established a bipartisan debt commission with great fanfare in 2010. Its leaders were Alan Simpson, a former Republican Senator, and Erskine Bowles, President Clinton’s former Chief of Staff. The panel was tasked with engineering a solution to right America’s fiscal ship. In the end, they produced a set of recommendations that received the blessing of a majority of its members.
Benson lays out the political advantages of bringing the plan back to life at this juncture:
Simpson-Bowles, for all its faults, was conducted in an open and transparent manner and brought disparate political players into a room to forge a serious compromise. It overhauls and streamlines our byzantine tax code, takes some important first steps on entitlements, and reduces and caps federal spending. On substance, I’d wager that it would be considerably better than anything Obama and Boehner might produce after weeks of behind-closed-doors acrimony with the proverbial gun to their heads. Politically, it paints Democrats into a tough corner. Republicans could make a grand show of reluctantly supporting Simpson-Bowles for the betterment of the country. Ideally, the press conference would be led by Paul Ryan, who might explain why he voted against the plan as a commissioner, but is now willing to set aside some of his strong ideological preferences to move the nation forward. They would remind viewers that the proposal they’re now backing only exists because President Obama specifically and publicly asked for it. Plus, more Democrats than Republicans voted for it, including Harry Reid’s top lieutenant in the Senate. Put simply, Simpson-Bowles represents the very embodiment of bipartisan collaboration and problem solving — precisely the sort of thing “moderates,” the media, and the public are always demanding. It would be exceedingly difficult for Democrats to paint the plan as radical or draconian in light of the commission’s origins and participants. The GOP’s “party of no” problem would also be hugely diminished; after all, they would have just signed on to the president’s commission, with the previously recalcitrant Paul Ryan magnanimously leading the way. It would be fascinating to watch the president and his allies try to denounce and reject the very proposal he called for.
One thing that we should remember at this time is that President Obama’s decision to not support the Bowles Simpson plan for fiscal responsibility directly led to the debt ceiling crisis that ultimately created today’s “fiscal cliff” crisis, which comes at a time where the nation has already been trending toward recession for months. As such, the President has a remarkable opportunity to right one of the worst mistakes he made in his first term in office, before it negatively impacts his second. The question now is whether Barack Obama can rise above his own partisanship to truly put the nation’s interest first.
Source: U.S. State Department, IIP Digital