StanCollender'sCapitalGainsandGames Washington, Wall Street and Everything in Between

Bowles-Simpson Is As Dead As The Edsel

02 Apr 2012
Posted by Stan Collender

From the beginning there were two reasons I didn't think the plan that Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson proposed to the deficit reduction commission they co-chaired was as special or game-changing as they and their supporters wanted us to believe.

First, as I said at the time it was announced, rather than being new thinking that would change the debate in some way, the plan appeared to be little more than the two chairs' selections from the deficit reduction options book published by the Congressional Budget Office every year.

Second, it was hardly innovative. In fact, any and every comprehensive deficit reduction plan will have to include the same general mix of elements that Bowles and Simpson included in their plan.

And this was after I had repeatedly expressed outright skepticism about the value of any presidential or congressional commission on as intransigent an issue as deficit reduction. As someone who had served -- proudly -- on a presidential budget-related commission, I was talking from very personal experience. Even the much-ballyhooed Greenspan commission from the 1980s that is still often held up as the model of what a commission should be actually was an abject failure.

The only real value B-S could have provided -- demonstrating that there was a deficit reduction something that Democrats and Republicans could rally around  -- disappeared as soon as its two most important members from a political point of view -- House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) -- indicated that they were against what the commission's two co-chairs announced. At that point it was clear that the the commission had completely and utterly failed.

That was December 2010. Since then, Bowles, Simpson and many of its supporters have tried to resurrect the dead plan and make people think their effort succeeded.

All of these efforts have done nothing more than drive nails into the B-S coffin.

Initially it was all spin. Following the collapse of their commission, Bowles and Simpson went on the road talking about their proposal as if it had actually been adopted even though it was never even voted on let alone approved. Even now the B-S commission's website labels the co-chairs' recommendation as "the Report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform" even though it absolutely is not. 

B-S and some of their biggest supporters then made a huge mistake when they expressed surprise and extreme disappointment that the Obama administration didn't make the co-chairs' recommendation the basis of its fiscal 2012 budget, that is, the first one it submitted after the commission ended.

That demonstrated a level of political tone deafness that seriously hurt the credibility of what had now become a B-S cult. They were seriously suggesting that the Obama White House unilaterally support the tax increases and spending cuts included in the two co-chairs' plan even though it was virtually guaranteed that the GOP would never agree to do the same and would punish Democrats for doing so.

The B-S cult also showed its political naivete by pushing ahead and suggesting that voter support for deficit reduction was large enough to protect the president and that he would thrive politically if he just supported what the co-chairs' had recommended. The Bowles-Simpson insistence that there was a large, vocal constituency for substantial spending reductions and tax increases when even the results in their own commission, let alone the results of the past 30 years, proved just the opposite and made it easy for the White House, House, Senate, Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives and just about everyone other than members of the cult to dismiss the B-S cause as nothing more than a political fringe effort.

In other words, the B-S "brand" was irreparably damaged. Instead of being commonly accepted as a sincere effort by well-meaning people to come up with a deficit reduction plan that could be supported by both political parties, had a chance of succeeding and, therefore, was something that many people wanted to be associated with, B-S became synonymous with bad politics and worse political judgment. That made it easy for members of Congress to run away from anything associated with it.

The fact that B-S supporters had become more of a political cult who drink their own Kool-Aid and believe what they're saying when few others do was put on display for all to see last week when something called Bowles-Simpson was offered as an amendment when the House debated the fiscal 2013 budget resolution.

By the time the B-S amendment was announced, it was already clear that no amendment had any chance of beating the plan put together by Paul Ryan and offering it made no sense because it was guaranteed to fail. Moving ahead was the budget equivalent of a presidential candidate deciding to run in a primary that she or he has absolutely no chance of winning. Not only are the results bad, but it raises serious questions about the quality of the decision making that led to entering the race in the first place.

In other words, B-S supporters again looked and sounded politically tone deaf and not ready for prime time.

Second, even though what was offered during the budget resolution debate was not exactly what the co-chairs proposed, the cult kept referring to it as the B-S amendment as if that alone would encourage members of Congress to support it. The truth was just the opposite: The B-S amendment was defeated about as overwhelmingly as any legislation can be -- 38 to 382.

The vote demonstrated that the deficit reduction B-S supporters were so confident was politically acceptable was anything but. It also showed that the B-S band has been so damaged that anything associated with it will have a harder rather than an easier time being taken seriously. Bringing it back again is like Ford saying it's going to introduce a new version of the long-ago discredited Edsel or a movie studio announcing a sequel to Ishtar.

I have no doubt that when and if a bipartisan deficit reduction plan is adopted, it in many ways will look like what Bowles and Simpson thought a proposal should be. That's inevitable because there aren't that many choices.

I'm also convinced, however, that, because of the extraordinary missteps by the B-S cult, the new plan's proponents will go to great lengths to convince people that it's not related in any way to B-S.


Stan, I have no doubt that

I have no doubt that when and if a bipartisan deficit reduction plan is adopted, it in many ways will look like what Bowles and Simpson thought a proposal should be. That's inevitable because there aren't that many choices.

Don't you think this is crazy? Isn't it better to start deficit reform now, rather than 10 years from now? It's like both parties envision there will be some future when they gain a) Presidency, b) House, and c) filibuster proof Senate and then they can cram down their vision of a "deficit reduction plan" on America.

In my mind a rational GOP position would be "let's take B-S for now and then try to push it further with the Ryan plan". Much like they have been pushing the balanced budget amendment for the past 20 years (or is it more, my political memory doesn't go that far back)? So their position is "let's take the Ryan plan now, and push for something like the Rand Paul gut the government plan?" If anyone believes that has more chance of success than B-S (which includes most of the GOP House?) than I've got some swampland in Tennessee for sale!

Of course I forgot politicians aren't rational, politics is dirty, and anything you propose and say can and will be held against you in the court of the next election.

Actions speak louder than words. Why are you attacking B-S supporters when they've managed to completely clown Paul Ryan and the GOP as not really that interested in deficit reduction? To be fair most Democrats aren't either... but the fact that Ryan has now voted twice against a reasonable deficit reduction plan, really man!?


Craziness is the decision to pursue deficit reduction when the economy is running at 85% capacity and unemployment above 8%. Plus, as Alexander Hamilton knew, deficit spending can actually be a political unifier of otherwise disparate forces. More importantly, cutting healthcare costs by half and letting the Bush tax cuts expire will take care of all the deficits in short time. So, that's it. Norquist is insane.

Ah yes Bowles-Simpson, the

Ah yes Bowles-Simpson, the bipartisan budget plan that had input from both sides: conservatives, and extreme right-wing conservatives.

Because anything in Washington has to get support of both those two "sides" to be considered a serious proposal.

As the fortunes at the moment of most of Europe (where I live) demonstrate, our not having adopted anyone's misguided harsh austerity budget, including the one by these two conservatives (yes, one is a Democrat, they can be conservatives too) is the only reason we're actually slowly recovering from recession. The conservatives who control Europe have plunged it back into recession.

It's voodoo economics no matter what hyphenated name you give it.

Jobs now, not deficit reduction to prefund next war/tax cut.

As Timelagged said above.-- We're so lucky if B-S is indeed dead for now, and wish that nothing like it will be resurrected as long as unemployment is so high. Pivoting to the deficit was an unforced error of the Obama administration.
And if a Democratic administration forces sacrifices on the lower 99% in form of cuts to various social programs, and succeeds in reducing the deficit, we now know, from experience, that the next Republican administration will recreate the deficit, by giving yet more tax cuts to the upper 0.1% (and a few optional wars for their defense contractor friends).

Obama can't cut the deficit

Anonymous has it exactly right. Clinton was able to balance the budget over the short term, but all his work was wiped away the moment Republicans gained power. Obama can't (or at least shouldn't) cut the deficit even over the short term because that would make the economy (and quite likely the long term budget picture) worse.

B S plan lacked medical specifics

Since almost all of our deficit >2020 is medical, and almost all of our current deficit can be fixed by repeal bush tax cuts, end of Iraq wars and return to less then recession employment, the main, indeed the lion's share of any deficit reduction plan has to be medical.
Yet didn't BS lack any specifics on medical ?
which means it didn't even rise to the level of serious, at the time it was proposed.

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