Finally, Washington is getting some bipartisan cooperation from some congressional leaders — but it may not be what those who bemoan the lack of bipartisanship in politics have in mind. The New York Times reports that there is unanimous opposition from the six Democrat and six Republican members of Congress who sit on the president’s debt-reduction commission to issuing a final report today. We’ve known for weeks that the commission was having problems reaching consensus on how best to deal with the mounting public debt — nearly $14 trillion and climbing — though its co-chairs, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, are on the same page: cut spending and raise taxes.
The chairmen’s plan would cap annual spending for both domestic and military programs; build on the cost-savings steps in Mr. Obama’s health-care law; raise Social Security payroll taxes for affluent taxpayers while slowly increasing the retirement age to 69 from 67; and reduce or eliminate a raft of popular tax breaks, including the mortgage-interest deduction, in return for lower income-tax rates for individuals and corporations.
But neither Bowles nor Simpson has to face voters, as the 12 congressional members do. In order to issue a report, the commission must win support for its recommendations from 14 of the 18 members; but that is looking unlikely at the moment, even though the commission has extended its deadline to Friday. Predictably, Democrats don’t want to endorse many of the spending cuts, while Republicans are averse to tax increases.
Since when has any presidential or congressional commission actually solved a complex issue? (Not that Congress does such a great job either.) Sure, compromise is often necessary, but the pleas emanating from editorial boards and pundits for more bipartisanship in Washington more often than not mean they want Republicans to abandon their principles. But since we’re talking about debt here, there really is only one solution — stop spending so much. Tax revenues will increase without hiking rates for anyone or taking away deductions when people start working again. But unless we do something about spending, most importantly on entitlements, we will never begin to pay down that debt.