Bowles, Simpson and Tough Love
Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Everybody wants to get America’s fiscal house in order, but few are willing to embrace the painful steps necessary to accomplish that.
If Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson didn’t already know that, they are learning it now in the wake of the release of a partial draft of their plan to reduce the national debt and deficit.
Bowles is a Democrat from North Carolina and the outgoing president of the UNC system. Simpson is a Republican and a distinguished former senator from Wyoming. They are the co-chairmen of President Obama’s bipartisan Debt Commission.
They are both wise and honest men who love America and have its best interests at heart. They are telling the rest of us some unpleasant truths, and we all had better be listening to what they have to say instead of finding reasons to shoot it down.
Cuts Will Take Courage
During the recent election campaign, Republicans demanded smaller government, balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility. Now many of them are turning thumbs down on the Bowles-Simpson report because it recommends about $1 trillion in new revenue — even though that would be accompanied by $2.2 trillion in spending cuts and almost $700 billion in interest savings over 10 years.
From the Democratic side, outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the AFL-CIO rejected the Bowles-Simpson draft because of those spending cuts and the proposed steps to get Social Security under control.
It is easy — all too easy — especially at election time, to issue calls for cutting the Big Three: “waste, fraud and abuse.” But experts know that even cutting out every red cent in those categories would not come close to solving the problem. The lion’s share of the federal budget goes into defense spending and entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, and our current fiscal crisis will never go away until we can summon the courage and consensus to make meaningful reductions in all the above.
Short-Term Pain, Long-Term Gain
The report notes that a gasoline tax increase of 15 cents per gallon, though not popular, would generate billions in extra revenue and put more pressure on all of us to reduce our out-of-control demand for oil, most of it foreign.
The suggested cut of $100 billion in military spending would affect our readiness and create trickle-down economic hardship — especially for communities like ours that benefit from the nearby presence of major military facilities. But it would do wonders for the budget, while helping America to face the fact that it can’t keep playing the role of world policeman.
Getting Social Security expenses under control by things like higher retirement ages and lower cost-of-living adjustments would require belt-tightening in millions of American homes that are already under a strain. But it could also help assure the fiscal survival of a program whose collapse would create infinitely more suffering.
Bowles and Simpson aren’t saying any of this would be easy. But instead of finding fault with their ideas, we should all be thanking them for having the courage to tell us unwelcome things that we need to hear.
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