Representative Jan Schakowsky is both smart and a dogged progressive, so it’s no surprise that her alternative proposal to the Simpson-Bowles debt reduction plan contains a lot of smart, progressive ideas. But what it does — balance the budget by 2015 — is basically irrelevant. As you’ve probably heard a dozen progressives say a thousand times, the long-term budget gap is primarily about health care costs. And while Schakowsky has some ideas in there that provide a one-time reduction in health care costs (public option for ACA exchanges, for example) but there’s nothing on the systemic growth in Medicare.
Of course Simpson-Bowles doesn’t really have anything on this either. Instead they have a vague assertion that costs should be held to GDP+1% through some unspecified measures. So I guess it’s fair for Schakowsky to play by those rules too.
That said, it’s the coping with Medicare part that we could really use a commission for! Unlike Social Security, this doesn’t call for a brute quantitative compromise where progressives want X and conservatives want Y so we meet somewhere in the middle. I think it would serve the country well to appoint a real panel of experts — not politicians, but policy folks, though ideally ones with some experience in government — and have them devise and evaluate a whole bunch of different options. There’s probably nothing that would take a big bite out of Medicare that the 112th Congress would agree to, but the point is that we could really use mores public discussion of the main options — firmer price controls, more means-testing, more rationing.