The impending economic disaster awaiting the nation at the bottom of January's fiscal cliff has produced a staggering disconnect between Congress and the country at-large. Elected officials of both parties stubbornly refuse to compromise, despite repeated calls to do so from the people who voted for them.
Republicans reportedly laughed out loud at the president's latest proposals, while the White House has dismissed the GOP's counteroffer as "magic beans and fairy dust." While the spectacle becomes increasingly disheartening, more and more people find themselves asking why nobody can find any middle ground. Wouldn't it be wonderful if a group of pragmatic statesmen could get together and forge some kind of bipartisan, commonsense consensus that could lead the nation out of this mess?
On that score, there's both good news and bad news.
The good news? Such a thing has already happened. Two years ago, a commission chaired by both a prominent Republican — former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming — and a leading Democrat — former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles — produced a workable proposal that would raise taxes and cut spending in a responsible and measured fashion, leading to a balanced federal budget by 2035.
By implementing these measures over a long period of time, the plan would avoid the economic jolt expected to accompany the drastic automatic spending cuts and tax hikes that are scheduled to take effect at the beginning of next year. It would also stabilize out-of-control growth in federal entitlement spending, keeping Medicare and Social Security solvent for generations to come. The Deseret News praised this approach when it was put forward two years ago, acknowledging that it is far from perfect, since no legislative compromise ever is. The plan wasn't unanimously embraced by all members of the commission that created it, but those who objected offered no better alternatives. Real solutions will require some pain.
At the time, the Simpson-Bowles recommendations looked like a good start in a negotiating session marked by good-faith concessions on each side. Given the grandstanding and recalcitrant behavior of both sides since then, however, Simpson-Bowles has come to look far better with time. It offers solutions far better than anything else currently on the table.
The bad news is that both parties have all but ignored it.
The president, who created the commission, saluted the commissioners' hard work but did nothing to implement their plan. In the Spring of 2012, a budget resolution largely based on Simpson-Bowles collapsed in the House of Representatives in a lopsided 382-38 vote. Democrats insist that it doesn't include sufficient new taxes; Republicans demand even deeper spending cuts.
And on and on it goes.
It's time to stop posturing. Neither side is going to get all of what it wants, and Simpson-Bowles is the best option currently available. At the very least, it deserves a very serious second look as the clock begins to run out.
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