When President Obama addresses Congress Thursday night, he doesn’t need to unveil a comprehensive “go big” economic plan. That’s because he already has one, thanks to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, also known as the Bowles-Simpson commission. The president would be wise to fully tie himself to the commission’s recommendations and prove he’s serious by putting its authors in charge of his economic team.
In December 2010, the Bowles-Simpson commission produced a comprehensive report for the president that called for lowering the national debt and slashing annual deficits through tough, but doable, budget cuts. The president later endorsed this plan in — of course — a well-written speech, yet he has not made a serious effort since then to implement the commission’s recommendations. The president has always been a master of rhetoric and political gamesmanship. That will surely continue. But with a recent Gallup poll showing that only 26 percent of Americans approve of his handling of the economy, he needs to move beyond bombast and take bold action to restore his administration’s credibility on economic policy. Credibility will lead to confidence, and consumers and businesses regaining confidence is the critical first step to economic recovery.
Unfortunately, there is a gap between the president’s promises and his results, between his campaign commitments to make hard choices and be honest with the American people and his timidity and partisan chastising. That gap has led the American people to question the president’s leadership. As a result, he has lost much of their confidence.
It is abundantly clear to everyone, including even those working at the White House, that the president’s historic economic policies have not delivered anything close to their promised impact. That is precisely why more empty promises and finger-pointing will ring hollow. The president needs to chart a new course that includes a major change in policy, some new personnel and a commitment to hard choices.
The president needs to go beyond embracing just the language of the Bowles-Simpson commission as a roadmap for his administration, and embrace the authors themselves, by hiring them to lead his charge for economic growth. The commission’s report recognized that getting Washington to live within its means would require painful choices. Empowering its authors would send a powerful message to Congress that the current way of doing business must end.
Erskine Bowles, succeeding Tim Geithner as Treasury secretary, could adeptly work with the congressional super-committee on meaningful comprehensive tax reform as outlined in the commission’s final report. Former Senator Alan Simpson could take over the Office of Management and Budget and act as a deregulatory czar and budget balancer. Both would be able to rely on their commission work and hefty reputations to advance pro-growth policies through executive orders while credibly working with Congress on broad reform. Their leadership of the commission gives them a depth of understanding of the policy challenges we face, the politics surrounding them and the spectrum of possible solutions.
Putting this bipartisan team in place would send a signal to lawmakers that the administration is finally serious about implementing policies that will renew growth in our economy — not just talking about them. It would allow consumers, businesses and markets to see that the president values the future of the country more than his own re-election.