Indeed, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who served on the Simpson-Bowles commission, cast one of the pivotal “nays” on Dec. 3, 2010, that kept the proposal from being referred for debate and guaranteed a vote in Congress.
The domestic cuts were too little, Ryan said, and the defense cuts too large. “The revenue increases called for in this proposal are simply too high,” he wrote then, and “the fundamental weakness in the … proposal is its failure to structurally reform” Medicare and Medicaid into the premium-voucher system and block-grant programs embodied in the Ryan budget plan.
“There is a lot of loose talk that sometimes goes unchallenged … about who actually supports the principles behind the Simpson-Bowles commission,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said recently. When Romney aligns himself with Simpson-Bowles, “those statements are incompatible with the facts and the truth.”
But Obama’s Democrats have their own compatibility problems. The White House deserted the Simpson-Bowles plan when it was released on Dec. 1, 2010, and has failed to implement its major recommendations.
Like the Republicans, Democrats cherry-pick. Pelosi, for example, says she is all for Simpson-Bowles, except for that pesky Social Security part.
That "part" would be the Simpson-Bowles proposals to increase the retirement age over the next 50 years from 66 to 69 and the age for early retirement from 62 to 64. This would result, under Social Security formulas, in a 7 percent reduction in benefits for every year the full retirement age is increased, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. At the same time, elderly and disabled Medicare beneficiaries would have to pay higher out-of-pocket expenses.
Liberals quail, as well, at the way Simpson-Bowles would cap federal revenue and spending at 21 percent of gross domestic product and limit the rate of growth of federal health care costs for the poor, the elderly, children, veterans and military families, to the growth of GDP plus 1 percent.
Various Democratic interest groups shudder at the proposals to freeze pay for federal workers, slice military and civilian pensions, cut the federal workforce by 10 percent, end congressional earmarks, reform the tort system, cut the corporate tax rate, and adopt a “territorial” tax system for multinational firms in which most or all of overseas profits would not be subject to U.S. corporate income tax.
That kind of shared pain, of course, is what gives Simpson-Bowles such potential as a “framework” or “template.” Everyone has some skin in the game.
Simpson-Bowles lets us “know what the options are,” says Boehner. “All we have to do is have real leadership and courage.”
And the truth is, there may be nothing better.