The Simpson-Bowles commission’s recommendations can pass with broad bipartisan support

Lanny Davis Former Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton
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That headline alone is a shocker, since it defies the conventional wisdom (CW) and narrative created by the media and the Internet.

We all recognize that the reliance of most people on the Internet to get their news and information — or, worse, TV nightly cable or daily talk show hosts on the left and right — often results in a superficial and incorrect understanding of what is really happening in the country and in Washington.

In that superficial news-readership culture, it’s no surprise that the general takeaway when the name Simpson-Bowles is mentioned, even among the minority of Americans who have even heard of it, can be summarized in one word: Baaaaaad.

Painful, awful, draconian, too liberal, too conservative, too many cuts, too few cuts, bad higher taxes, bad lower taxes, hitting the “third rails” of Social Security and Medicare cuts, too impractical and it can never pass — all of this has been written and said so many times it is now the commonly understood “truth” about the chances of Simpson-Bowles ever being enacted.

But, in fact, the evidence is to the contrary. Simpson-Bowles can be enacted, at least most of it, once it is carefully debated and considered, as was done by the 18 members or commissioners during dozens of meetings and hundreds of hours of deliberations, under the courageous and honest hands of former Republican Senator Alan Simpson (Wyo.) and former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, until recently the chancellor of the University of North Carolina.

The commission’s 18 members were evenly divided 9-9 between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. Yet, remarkably, consider this fact, contrary to the CW — get ready to be shocked: The Simpson-Bowles commission recommendations were supported by an overwhelming majority of the commissioners. Indeed, the margin was over 60% — enough to kill a Senate filibuster.

Supporting the recommendations of a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts were such senators as conservative Republicans Mike Crapo (Ida.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) and liberal Democrats Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Kent Conrad (ND).

Yes, their votes were not necessarily an endorsement of every recommendation and every detail of the 400+ page report. But the fact is, the brave 11, including these truly great senators who have the country’s best interests at heart, can lead the way and shame their colleagues into standing up and explaining precisely what they intend to do to reduce the over $14 trillion in debt — or almost $46,000 for each of the 310 million men, women, and children in America.

Instead, the headlines were mainly that the commission “failed” to achieve the 75% necessary to “recommend” the plan to Congress. But, to put it simply, that is silly.

Who cares whether the Simpson-Bowles commission “recommended” their proposals to Congress? Congress still has the power — and so does the president — to endorse them and enact them into law. The 75% requirement is really irrelevant. What is relevant is the need for political courage and determination by Democrats and Republicans, with consistency in principle, whether from the left or right.

Seen anyone lately who qualifies?

For the next several weeks, barring some significant breaking story that requires commentary, I will be explaining the Simpson-Bowles report and getting into some of the details.

I will first explain the overall structure of the recommendations — and the most important principle: that it all has to be done at once, together, not one piece at a time. And then I will detail the four parts of the recommendations: (1) Social Security cuts phased in over several decades; (2) tax reform, including income tax cuts and gasoline tax hikes; (3) Medicaid/Medicare cuts, forcing the wealthier elderly to pay more and forcing lower-income people into managed care, lower-cost systems; and (4) discretionary spending cuts, across the board — from earmarks to defense to programs broadly benefitting the middle class.

This is the Purple Nation moment. It’s time for everyone who cares about the future of our country, of our children and grandchildren, on the left and right, to join hands and say one word about ignoring our national addiction to using credit cards to pay for government spending: Enough.

Stay tuned.

Lanny Davis is the principal in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, which specializes in strategic crisis management and is a partner with Josh Block in the strategic communications and public affairs company Davis-Block. He served as President Clinton’s Special Counsel in 1996-98 and as a member of President Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in 2006-07. He is the author of “Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics Is Destroying America” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).