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What Would “Prompt Consideration” Of The Bowles-Simpson Proposal Accomplish?

By Matthew Yglesias on March 24, 2011 at 12:15 pm

"What Would “Prompt Consideration” Of The Bowles-Simpson Proposal Accomplish?"

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I’ll confess to being a little bit confused by what it is the former Council of Economic Advisors chairs who co-signed this op-ed are actually proposing:

To be sure, we don’t all support every proposal here [i.e., from the Simpson-Bowles Commission]. Each one of us could probably come up with a deficit reduction plan we like better. Some of us already have. Many of us might prefer one of the comprehensive alternative proposals offered in recent months. Yet we all strongly support prompt consideration of the commission’s proposals. The unsustainable long-run budget outlook is a growing threat to our well-being. Further stalemate and inaction would be irresponsible.

We know the measures to deal with the long-run deficit are politically difficult. The only way to accomplish them is for members of both parties to accept the political risks together. That is what the Republicans and Democrats on the commission who voted for the bipartisan proposal did. We urge Congress and the president to do the same.

Are they saying congress should enact these proposals into law? Doing so would, obviously, reduce the projected budget deficit. But they authors are assuring us that they don’t actually support all of the proposals. And neither do I. Consequently, if I were in congress I would vote against enacting these proposals into law if they came up for a vote. But in other sentence the authors appear to be merely urging congress to bring the proposals up for a vote. But what’s the point? John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have already clarified that they oppose the commission’s tax reform proposals. And the proposed reform, though slightly revenue-positive, involves a large decrease in tax rates on high income individuals. On what planet is a combination of tax cuts for the rich and deep spending cuts supposed to pass over the objection of the Republican leadership? That’s just silly.

As I’ve been saying, to make progress on the long-term budget what needs to happen next is that the House Republicans need to write down a budget proposal. Because the White House wrote down a budget proposal, it’s possible for deficit hawks to look at the proposal and say that the deficit being proposed is higher than they like. Which is fine. So now the question is what’s an idea that Republicans support that offers a lower deficit? My strong suspicion is that if forced to go through the exercise, Republicans will either move away from their current tax pledge (unlikely) or else develop a proposal that involves a higher deficit than what Obama is proposing (likely). Either way, the stage would be set for a new move in the iterative game. But as long as there’s no proposal from the Republicans, there’s nothing to talk about. I agree with Jon Bernstein that it’s very possible Republicans just won’t write a budget, but if that’s the case then that’s the problem. Without a budget proposal, the process can’t move forward.

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