UPDATED, 11:43 a.m., with comments from Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.
On Thursday night, I listened to President Barack Obama with one issue in mind: the federal debt.
I didn’t come away convinced.
Here’s the key quote from his speech to the Democratic National Convention, an appeal for a consensus-based deficit-cutting solution: “I’m still eager to reach an agreement based on the principles of my bipartisan debt commission.”
Sounds encouraging, but the record isn’t as friendly to the president. Let’s review it one more time, because it’s important.
In 2010, Obama convened an 18-member panel to look for debt-cutting options. Quickly dubbed the Simpson-Bowles commission — for former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff to President Clinton — the group settled on a plan to cut the debt by $4 trillion.
The Simpson-Bowles plan contained pain to go around — cuts in everything from Medicare payments to student loan subsidies to farm subsidies; tax reform; and, eventually, increases in gas taxes and Social Security taxes. The plan received 11 yes votes in committee; Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo was among the supporters. But the panel’s ground rules were deliberately strict. Without 14 yes votes from the panel, the plan didn’t go straight to Congress for a vote.
Instead, in December 2010, the blueprint went to Obama, who hasn’t pushed on its behalf. That inertia, in part, gave birth to the “Gang of Six,” a bipartisan Senate panel that picked up where Simpson-Bowles left off. Crapo is a Gang of Six member.
While Obama publicly praised the Gang of Six’s efforts, his embrace of Simpson-Bowles rings hollow. However, it’s not as big as the whopper we heard last week from GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan — who ripped Obama for ignoring Simpson-Bowles, while conveniently neglecting to mention his own opposition to the plan in committee.
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, voiced his disappointment Friday. “Not only did the president fail to take ownership of (the Simpson-Bowles) ideas at the time they were released, his own budgets have failed to push them forward or indicate any movement in the direction of those recommendations. That is a failure of leadership on the part of the president on the single largest issue facing our country and nothing I heard him say last night gives me much confidence he is going to start leading now.”
Simpson’s comments must be viewed in the context of an election — but should also be viewed in the context of his efforts to forge a bipartisan debt-cutting coalition in the House.
I don’t usually like to judge any candidate on one issue, but at the federal level, the deficit is as good a single issue as you can find. The answers affect what we can (responsibly) spend on federal programs; the long-term health of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; tax policy; and, ultimately, the health of the economy.
On this, the issue of the day and arguably the issue of the next generation, both conventions served up leftover politics as usual. Disappointing.