August 22, 2014

Simpson, Bowles Again Show Path to No-Nonsense Budget

This guest column in the Billings Gazette was written by Paul Hansen, western states regional director for The Concord Coalition.

It is time for both Republicans and Democrats in Washington to make a deal to fix the nation’s debt.

The new budget plan recently released by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles once again demonstrates that it is possible, through a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases, to rein in the debt over the long term without harming the near-term economy.

A bipartisan majority of the national fiscal commission approved the original Simpson-Bowles plan in late 2010. Since then, Washington has made some progress on budget reform, but much more remains to be done to avoid snowballing federal debt.

Simpson and Bowles propose $2.15 trillion in savings over the next 10 years, which would reduce interest costs by another $350 billion. While the new Simpson-Bowles plan is a model approach, President Barack Obama’s proposed 2014 budget is a good start in the right direction. His plan does not go far enough, but it offers a level of specificity and realism that is lacking in the fantasy budgets put forth by both House Republicans and Senate Democrats.

Members of Congress in both parties need to stop playing make-believe with voters and negotiate a responsible federal budget. America’s current fiscal policy is unsustainable.

Both sides, for example, have a hard time turning rhetoric into reality. Both postpone badly needed repairs to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security for at least a decade.

Tax reform essential

Both claim great savings by cutting tax “loopholes,” but they will not identify which ones for fear of upsetting special interests. Our tax code is now so complex that it costs America somewhere between $165 billion and $431 billion in tax compliance alone. That is what we spend just to figure out what we owe. On top of that, more than $1 trillion is spent each year in special tax deductions, credits, deferrals and other loopholes for a wide variety of preferred interests. Making our tax code more economically efficient, and less driven by Washington lobbyists, is essential to success.

With deficit reduction, there are two options: partisan gridlock or bipartisan compromise. There is no third choice, and it’s time for our leaders — all of them — to stop pretending that there is.

Officials in both parties must level with their most fervent supporters, telling them: No matter how deeply we believe that we are right, we cannot get everything we want. And the longer we try to, the worse it will be for the country.

Our living standard and our strength as a nation are at risk. We will fail if both parties retreat to their partisan concerns and stubbornly insist that compromise is only something for the other side to do — and that any calamity is only the other side’s fault. We can no longer afford such nonsense.

Meet in the middle

Congress must return to the “regular order” through which bills are introduced, considered by committees and eventually voted on by the entire House and Senate. The old formula held that when government was divided, the contending sides would meet in the middle.

American democracy has succeeded under this basic principle of governance in the past. We can do so again, but it will require civility, tolerance and reason in order to succeed.

This column can also be found on the Billings Gazette website at http://billingsgazette.com/news/opinion/guest/guest-opinion-simpson-bowles-again-show-path-to-no-nonsense/article_5ba45565-9ce7-5a5c-a2fd-0d35248c1f79.html.