Debt grows US while deficit-cut plan shrivels
Here's a political quiz:
Q: What would be great for the nation's fiscal health, would be popular with the great majority of moderates who will determine the outcome of the presidential election and has almost no chance of passing this year?
A: The Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction proposal.
That's the plan crafted in 2010 by a commission appointed by President Barack Obama ― led by proposal namesakes Alan Simpson, a Republican former Wyoming senator, and Erskine Bowles, a Democratic former White House chief of staff ― and then ignored into a coma by him.
For that he has been skewered by Republicans, who would have done the same thing were they in his place, if for different reasons.
The idea still has a pulse, albeit faint, and may be brought to a vote in the Senate after the election.
To understand the political danger of the plan, the pertinent fact is that the Democrat who has said he will revive it, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota, isn't running for re-election. And to understand the challenge of getting it passed, check the results of a vote in the House a few weeks ago on a bill that closely resembled Simpson-Bowles ― 38 for, 382 against.
That number reflects the chasm that divides the left and right today. Most who step into the breach will fall a long way.
That is so even though most understand the deficit is a grave problem. Our economic future depends on getting a handle on it. Simpson-Bowles wouldn't fix the problem, but it would be a big step in the right direction, cutting $4 trillion over 10 years.
The plan reduces the deficit by (gasp) cutting spending and increasing taxes. End of story, at least until enough people come to their senses and realize that although it's not the plan they prefer, it's the kind of compromise that eventually will have to pass.
The question is how much damage will have resulted before we get there. It's generalizing, but the plan is stalled because members of Congress aren't worried about the deficit; they're afraid if they support it they'll get chewed up in the unforgiving political meat-grinder, or they have deluded themselves into believing their own perfect solution will someday become law.
Whatever the reasons, the result is the same: no legislative action, which means the debt will continue to swell.
The zealots fiddle while the nation's economic future burns.
This article was publihsed and producted by Scripps Howard News Service.