The Bowles-Simpson blueprint would leave in place the vast expansion of health-care coverage enacted this year, rejecting GOP calls to repeal "Obamacare."
1. This is the huge carrot that Bowles-Simpson offers to Democrats. More than just leaving Obamacare in place, the co-chairmen of the deficit commission rely on Obamacare as the framework for cutting the growth of government spending on health care. So far, only James C. Capretta seems to have commented on this aspect of the co-chairs' deficit reduction plan.
2. I suspect that Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi are feuding. Too much ego chasing too little status. But it would not surprise me to see Hoyer come out with a more receptive comment on the co-chairs' report. Pelosi's "simply unacceptable" verdict would position the Democrats as the "party of no" on deficit reduction. If they want to recover from last week's election defeat, I doubt the wisdom of this strategy.
3. My own personal view is that while Bowles-Simpson is quite far from my ideal budget plan, it represents an improvement over what we have now. It puts our budget on a more sustainable path. If it were enacted, you could then fight the 2012 election over whether to try to move it one direction or another.
What is important, in my view, is to take the status quo off the table as an alternative. The status quo is a dishonest budget, because we know that it leads to a fiscal train wreck down the road. Just about any honest budget is a better starting point than a dishonest budget. Until the status quo is off the table and we have a sustainable baseline budget, Congressional budget debates will be surreal.
4. Assuming that the deficit commission fails to find a consensus of 14 out of 18 members in support of the plan, the President does have the option of pronouncing the commission a failure and ignoring the co-chairmen's proposal. However, where would that leave him? Does he say that he set the commission up to fail? Does he say that he prefers to leave the deficit problem unsolved? Does he come up with a plan that satisfies the Democratic base but would get voted down overwhelmingly in the House?
Bowles-Simpson would provide the President with two achievements. First, it would help protect his health care reform. Second, it would give him an accomplishment on deficit reduction.
I continue to predict that President Obama will endorse Bowles-Simpson as a starting point.