This is the right place for Bowles, who has long maintained a mutual-admiration society with House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin. The former Clinton White House chief of staff has always been in the corporate conservative camp when it comes to debates about preserving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
It’s good that he and Boehner have found one another. Let the Republicans advocate for the cuts proposed by Bowles and his former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, his Republican co-conductor on the train wreck that produced the so-called “Simpson-Bowles” deficit reduction plan.
After all, despite the media hype, Simposon-Bowles has always been a non-starter with the American people.
Last summer, at the Democratic and Republican national conventions, so many nice things were said about the recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform that had been chaired by former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, a Republican, and Bowles that it was hard to understand why they were implemented. Paul Ryan went so far as to condemn President Obama for “doing nothing” to implement the Simpson-Bowles plan—only to have it noted that Ryan rejected the recommendations of the commission.
But, while a lot of politicians in both parties say a lot of nice things about the austerity program proposed by Simpson-Bowles, there is a reason why there was no rush before the election to embrace the blueprint for cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid while imposing substantial new tax burdens on the middle class.
It’s a loser.
Before the November 6 election, Simpson and Bowles went out of their way to highlight the candidacies of politicians who supported their approach—New Hampshire Republican Congressman Charlie Bass, Rhode Island Republican US House candidate Brendan Doherty, Nebraska Democratic US Senate candidate Bob Kerrey. Bipartisan endorsements were made, statements were issued, headlines were grabbed and…
The Simpson-Bowles candidates all lost.
Americans are smart enough to recognize that Simpson-Bowles would stall growth. And they share the entirely rational view of economists like Paul Krugman.
“Simpson-Bowles is terrible,” argues Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner for his economic scholarship. “It mucks around with taxes, but is obsessed with lowering marginal rates despite a complete absence of evidence that this is important. It offers nothing on Medicare that isn’t already in the Affordable Care Act. And it raises the Social Security retirement age because life expectancy has risen—completely ignoring the fact that life expectancy has only gone up for the well-off and well-educated, while stagnating or even declining among the people who need the program most.”
On election night, Peter D. Hart Research Associates surveyed Americans with regard to key proposals from the commission. The reaction was uniformly negative.
By a 73-18 margin, those polled said that protecting Medicare and Social Security from benefit cuts is more important than bringing down the deficit.
By a 62-33 margin, the voters who were surveyed said that making the wealthy start paying their fair share of taxes is more important than reducing tax rates across the board (62 percent to 33 percent).
But that’s just the beginning of an outline of opposition to the Simpson-Bowles approach.
* 84 percent of those surveyed oppose reducing Social Security benefits;
* 68 percent oppose raising the Medicare eligibility age;
* 69 percent oppose reductions in Medicaid benefits;
* 64 percent support addressing the deficit by increasing taxes on the rich—with more than half of those surveyed favoring the end of the Bush tax cuts for those making more than $250,000.
Americans want a strong government that responds to human needs:
* 88 percent support allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies to lower costs;
• 70 percent favor continuing extended federal unemployment insurance;
• 64 percent support providing federal government funding to local governments;
•72 percent say that corporations and wealthy individuals have too much influence on the political system.
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka is right. On November 6, “The American people sent a clear message.”
With their votes, with their responses to exit polls, with every signal they could send, the voters refused to buy the “fix” that Erskine Bowles is selling.