Sunday, February 20, 2011

Alan and Erskine bowl a strike

Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson are out with an op-ed exquisitely calibrated to extend the life and influence of their commission's deficit reduction/tax reform plan and the negotiating process it kicked off.

At its heart is a delicately-couched challenge to the president that takes its force from acknowledging the potential efficacy of Obama's stated strategy:
Sadly, the president does punt on the larger issues. On health care, his budget calls for only a handful of savings and then asks Congress to identify the rest. He falls far short of comprehensive reform needed to simplify the tax code - broaden the base, lower rates and reduce the deficit - and proposes instead a small limit on deductions for higher earners (which Congress has rejected the past two years). He proposes nothing for restoring the solvency of Social Security, simply calling for a bipartisan process.

And yet, he's right: A bipartisan process is where this must start. In his news conference Tuesday, the president said that the fiscal commission plan represented a "framework for a conversation," noting that "this is going to be a process in which each side, in both chambers of Congress, go back and forth and start trying to whittle their differences down until we arrive at something that has an actual chance of passage."

The real test is whether he follows through on these good intentions. He has to provide the leadership necessary to create an environment in which it is possible to begin serious negotiations on the tough choices ahead.
Simpson and Bowles then frame the commission's work as a foreshadowing of the longer, tougher political process:
If our commission was a test case for divided government, then we have offered resounding proof that the parties can work together for the good of the country. Our recommendations, which would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion, garnered support from 11 of 18 members (five Democrats, five Republicans and one independent). A 60 percent majority is enough to pass almost anything in Washington.

Our commission's plan is not ideal from either party's perspective, and it is unrealistic to expect either side to endorse it in its entirety or as an opening bid. But if both sides are serious about achieving reform, not just scoring political points or ensuring reelection, they will realize that our plan, or something equally comprehensive, represents the type of principled compromise that is in the country's best interests.
Through modesty, Bowles and Simpson  make their bid for relevance. Their commission modeled the process; they're not wed to a given result.  Of course, since they did not obtain the supermajority of the commission required to force a vote on the commission plan, they can do no other at this point. But here they play their part with skill, and I think help advance the process.

P.S. -- never mind, I made this afterthought about Obama's positioning thus far the next post.

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