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Posted at 2:05 PM ET, 11/19/2010

Where the Simpson-Bowles commission failed, cont'd (plus a deficit prediction)

By Ezra Klein

Thumbnail image for debtfiscalproposal.jpg

Andrew Sullivan thinks I'm "bitter" about Simpson-Bowles, but I don't really think so. I'm actually more positive on the policy than some, because I think Simpson and Bowles correctly focused on procedural reforms. Wonks like to play fantasy deficit games, in part because they're easy to win. It's getting around congressional inertia and polarization that's got everyone flummoxed.

But if you consider congressional inertia and polarization the problem, it's hard to be encouraged by this process. When President Obama created the body, he said the point was "to build a bipartisan consensus to put America on the path toward fiscal reform and responsibility." We're now near the end of the commission's efforts, and there is no consensus. Not on the commission, and not outside of it. In fact, there's so little consensus that two of the commission's members have released competing deficit reduction proposals. Nor have legislators outside the commission been particularly receptive.

I like a good budget conversation as much as the next wonk, but what I'd really like is some evidence that we'll start making more rational economic policy, rather than just bouncing from crisis to crisis. And I'm not seeing it here. Quite the opposite, actually. So I'll offer a prediction: We've just come through an election that the winners said was about reducing the deficit. That, plus a more honest conversation about how to reduce the deficit, should probably lead to some deficit reduction. It won't.

Taking CBO's current baseline as a starting point, I predict that the projected deficit will be larger in two years than it is today. You might argue, of course, that the current baseline is unrealistic, as it assumes the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. But every deviation from the baseline -- including the extension of the Bush tax cuts -- will require a congressional vote. If those votes succeed, and the votes to cut the deficit either fail or never happen, well, that's Congress increasing the deficit.

Anyone want to take the other side of the bet?

By Ezra Klein  | November 19, 2010; 2:05 PM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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Next: The magic of a millionaires' bracket


I notice a cut in military retirement and federal employee retirement. I did not see a cut in the Congressional representative retirement. Leadership from the top as they put it.

Posted by: starlingreece | November 19, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

My main objections to what has been published are:

1. The assumption that the federal budget must not exceed 21% of the economy. There is no basis given for the assumption;

2. One of the co-chairs has referred to Social Security as a cow with 300 million teats. It is actually something to which 12.4% of peoples' earnings have been going.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | November 22, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

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