The Ripon Forum

Volume 46, No. 3

Summer 2012 Issue

In this Edition

By on August 13, 2014 with 0 Comments

Shortly after the November 2008 election, I mentioned to a few friends that I thought one of the first things Barack Obama was going to do after being sworn in as President was call his national security team into the Oval Office and tell them to: “Get bin Laden.” 

With the 2012 election less than 100 days away, perhaps it’s a good time to make another prediction — if Barack Obama wins a second term as President, one of the first things he’s going to do is call Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles into the Oval Office and tell them to: “Get it done.” 

Simpson and Bowles, of course, are the Co-Chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Otherwise known as the Simpson-Bowles Commission, it is the Commission that Obama himself created. It’s also the Commission that the President effectively abandoned after they did exactly what he instructed them to do – that is, develop a plan to get spending under control and reduce the national debt. 

The fact that the President declined to endorse their recommendations, which they released in December of 2010, should surprise no one. As Senator Simpson explains in this latest edition of the FORUM, “he knew when he touched entitlement reform – which we do — his base would have ripped him to shreds.” As for the opposition, Simpson continued, “anything he would have voted for, the Republicans would have come together and said, ‘Vote against it.’” Without the President’s endorsement, the plan was dead in the water.

Amazingly, 18 months later, the Simpson-Bowles plan has been resurrected, and has become something of a symbol – a symbol not only of the tough choices that need to be made to get the Nation’s fiscal house in order, but of what can be accomplished when Republicans and Democrats lay down their political arms and come together for the common good. It is also, as Simpson puts it, “the only game in town.” Tom Coburn supports it. Nancy Pelosi supports it. If he wins a second term, I predict President Obama, electorally liberated and politically unencumbered, will support it, too. 

What about Mitt Romney? In Paul Ryan, he has selected as his running mate a man who not only served on the Simpson-Bowles Commission, but voted against the final set of recommendations because they didn’t go far enough. Ryan has authored his own budget that would achieve that goal. The House of Representatives approved the Ryan budget on a mostly party line vote earlier this year. No Democrat supported it and 10 Republicans opposed it. Now, the Romney campaign apparently can’t decide whether it wants to run on the budget or run away from it. 

Here’s another idea — rather playing defense on the Ryan budget, Governor Romney should go on the offense by embracing the Simpson-Bowles plan. Conservatives would no doubt howl at the idea, objecting, among other things, to the fact that the plan raises revenue and caps federal spending at 23% of the GDP, which many feel is too high. But these objections ignore the fact that Simpson-Bowles remains something of a work in progress; in fact, negotiations with a group of nearly 50 bipartisan Senators are continuing to this day. 

More importantly, it also ignores the fact that embracing Simpson-Bowles would send a powerful signal to two important groups. To the business community, it would send a signal that America may elect a President who supported a credible and politically viable plan to address the Nation’s debt crisis – which just about every expert says is needed to calm global markets and ease economic fears. 

To political independents, embracing Simpson-Bowles would send a signal that Mitt Romney believes in bipartisanship and is willing to work across party lines to address the greatest fiscal challenge of our time. 

Given the vitriol of this campaign season, that is something independents would welcome, and most Americans would embrace.

Lou Zickar
The Ripon Forum

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