Tomorrow, President Obama is expected to formally announce the creation of a commission charged with formulating a plan to address the country’s long-term budget deficits. Obama will reportedly name former Republican senator Alan Simpson and former Clinton White House official Erskine Bowles as the commission’s chairmen.
When Obama first made his intention to create a deficit commission known and said that he was “agnostic” regarding the proposals that it would consider, many Republicans went on the offensive, claiming that the commission was simply a way to push through tax increases. Instead, the GOP has been advocating for a commission that is explicitly barred from considering taxes and can only focus on cutting spending.
Fortunately, Simpson isn’t buying that argument, and in an interview with the New York Times he “dismissed claims from Republicans that reining in deficits would be easy or accomplished with spending cuts alone”:
“But they don’t cut spending,” he said, citing the administration of President George W. Bush when Republicans also controlled Congress. “Don’t forget the Republicans never vetoed a single bill in six and a half years. How is that for cutting spending?” “To say that all we have to do is take care of waste, fraud and abuse, and foreign aid is a like a sparrow’s belch in the midst of typhoon,” he said. “That is nothing, less than 1 percent of the budget.”
“There isn’t a single sitting member of Congress — not one — that doesn’t know exactly where we’re headed,” Simpson added. “And to use the politics of fear and division and hate on each other — we are at a point right now where it doesn’t make a damn whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican if you’ve forgotten you’re an American.”
Simpson is exactly right. Not only are our current deficits overwhelmingly the result of Bush administration policies and the economic downturn (which has seriously depressed tax revenue), but trying to address long-term deficits on the spending side alone can’t be done. Those who blame the deficit on earmarks (which make up less than one percent of the budget) or think that the budget can be balanced by simply freezing spending are, as CAP’s Michael Linden has put it, “peddling fiscal snake oil.”
As former Reagan economic official Bruce Bartlett wrote, “every serious budget analyst — I mean every — knows that revenues must be part of the solution to our deficit problem…[T]he idea that we can or even should embark on serious deficit reduction with no tax increase whatsoever is grossly immature and unworthy of consideration.” But the Republican leadership is still waffling about whether or not it will even agree to name members to the commission, crystallizing its insistence on staying on budget fantasy-land. It’s good to see that, at least, the Republican chairman of the commission is refusing to play the same game.