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OUR OPINION: Dust off the Simpson-Bowles deficit plan

It's not much of a snowball at this point: bigger than a softball, but not as big as a basketball, maybe. Big enough to be noticed, in other words. But that's about it. Except ... Except that it's poised at the top of a snow-covered slope. And if...

It's not much of a snowball at this point: bigger than a softball, but not as big as a basketball, maybe.

Big enough to be noticed, in other words. But that's about it.

Except ...

Except that it's poised at the top of a snow-covered slope. And if it's given the right push, the revival of the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction proposals could roll, picking up both momentum and size as it tumbles downhill.

The Simpson-Bowles committee -- which counted Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., as a member, and which Conrad helped create -- announced its deficit reduction proposals late last year. The committee needed 14 of its 18 members to vote "yes" in order to prompt consideration by Congress.

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Sadly, the proposals won only 11 votes, including Conrad's.

But those 11 formed a bipartisan majority more impressive than any Congress has been able to generate since then.

Moreover, the proposals spell out a rigorous mix of spending cuts and revenue hikes, exactly the compromise most Americans want Democrats and Republicans to reach.

And in the wake of the more recent deficit "supercommittee" and its failure to reach any agreement at all, the Simpson-Bowles proposals are starting to look pretty good.

"Today, I call on President Obama to embrace the Bowles-Simpson plan," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in a press release last week.

"I also urge the Democratic leadership in the Senate and Republican leadership in the House to bring the Commission report up for a vote.

"Like any serious plan to address our nation's long-term fiscal health, the Bowles-Simpson plan has many provisions which give me heartburn. And while the Bowles-Simpson framework may not be perfect, it is better than the status quo. On balance, the plan begins to make the necessary changes which will address the fiscal calamity we are facing."

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., agrees. "In the year that I have been in Congress, only the Bowles-Simpson proposal has generated bipartisan support in both houses of Congress," Manchin wrote in a Nov. 21 letter to the president and congressional leadership.

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"I urge you to give the entire Congress a vote on the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson Fiscal Commission."

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman agrees, too. The president should admit "that he made a mistake in spurning his own deficit reduction commission, chaired by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, and is now adopting Simpson-Bowles -- which already has Republican and Democratic support -- as his long-term fiscal plan," Friedman wrote last week.

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein also is on board: "Obama should ask Congress to begin drafting legislation based on Bowles-Simpson," Klein wrote Nov. 22.

At the very least, this would force Congress to recognize "what a reasonable, centrist proposal looked like. That alone is better than what we've had thus far."

The Simpson-Bowles plan is a reasonable compromise -- and both sides seem unusually ready to get to "yes." Washington leaders should get behind this snowball and push.

Opinion by Thomas Dennis
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