12 November 2010

America, eat your vegetables

Hats off to Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson for their brilliant work as co-chairs of the president's Deficit Reduction Commission. In their report released earlier this week, they've made some very controversial recommendations.

They've also made partisans on both sides very uncomfortable.

It's refreshing to get such tough, reasonable talk after what was an almost unbearable election cycle in terms of hackish rhetoric.

Partisans on both sides have lambasted the commission's recommendations -- David Limbaugh, here; Paul Krugman, here; Nancy Pelosi, here; Grover Norquist, here.

Paul Ryan approves. Ross Douthat approves. So does Andrew Sullivan. So does the Brookings Institute. And holy s***, the New York Times editorial board has even endorsed it.

Look. We've written here many times before that our country is on an unsustainable fiscal path. Both Republicans and Democrats share the blame in driving America to the precipice of disaster. In order to get our fiscal house in order, both Republicans and Democrats must accept that we have to tackle this problem in a bipartisan fashion.

This is why Krugman's column, linked above, is so offensive. He indicts the commission's "conservative bias," whatever that means, and more critically, denounces any and all suggestions to curb benefits in Social Security or to raise the retirement age -- never mind the fact that the system is completely unsustainable and will be bankrupt in 2042. Krugman also completely ignores the fact that the commission called for deep defense spending cuts -- about $100 billion by 2015 -- and recommended that Social Security be both means-tested (a liberal policy) and that the cap on earnings taxed for Social Security purposes be completely lifted (an even more liberal policy).

I operate by the maxim that when partisans of both sides are upset by something, it's probably a good idea.

Krugman has offered no plan for reducing the deficit and getting our fiscal house in order, and in fact, seems to be one of those economists who gleefully doesn't believe a fiscal crisis exists at all.

On the other side, conservatives must swallow hard and reconcile the inherent contradictions between fiscal responsibility on one hand, and blank checks for the Pentagon and tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans on the other. This is simply an incompatible, incoherent set of policy proposals that most conservatives wear like badges of honor. Hats off to Rand Paul and Tom Coburn -- perhaps my two favorite senators -- for targeting the great waste at the Pentagon.

The bottom line is that the time has come to make difficult decisions. I applaud President Obama for creating this commission, putting Erskine and Simpson in charge, and for making this a bipartisan discussion.

But it's now time for the president to do something he hasn't done much of yet -- lead. America needs it.

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