Deficit Commission Chairs Give Americans What They Say They Want

Simpson-Bowles charts a smart, fair path toward controlling government spending while preserving the social safety net

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So far, I like it. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles have given the American people what the American people say they want: a smart, fair path toward controlling government spending and paying down debt, which still preserves the best features of the social safety net.

The Simpson-Bowles plan would:

  • Save Social Security
  • Cap federal taxes and spending at 21 percent of GDP
  • Reduce the long term growth of healthcare costs
  • Reform the tax code, dropping special interest tax breaks in return for low, flat rates
  • Raise the federal gas tax, nudging us away from our reliance on imported oil
  • Get rid of the horrific Alternative Minimum Tax
  • Chop wasteful defense spending, farm subsidies, and other pork barrel projects

Here is a common sense plan that Americans, if they really love their country, and not just their selfish pleasure, can rally around.

[Read more about the deficit and national debt.]

Is there pain? Absolutely. We’re not getting out of this mess without paying something for our folly. You don’t cut $4 trillion from the deficit without goring sacred cows.

But what is intriguing about the Simpson-Bowles proposal--and it is just a starting point, remember--is the way it shows us how to balance interests.

They propose to eliminate, for example, the politically sacred mortgage interest deduction, and other tax breaks and credits. But in return, taxpayers would face income tax brackets of 8, 14 and 23 percent.

The cries of “non-starter” and “dead on arrival” that you hear are coming from the vested interests. Liberals don’t like the benefit cuts. Conservatives don’t like the tax hikes. Lobbyists want to protect the vested interests of their clients.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Should a balanced budget be a top priority?]

I want to see it vetted by a team of bipartisan or nonpartisan number crunchers, to make sure that it achieves its most important stated purpose, to “protect the truly disadvantaged.” And I have misgivings about making people work until they are 69 years old, before they can qualify for Social Security.

Enacting a grand bargain like Simpson-Bowles will require a lot of tinkering and horse-trading. But would I make the sacrifices they are asking for my country? You bet I would. Now we’ll see if Speaker Boehner and President Obama, and the rich boys and girls in the Senate, can cowboy up.