by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
… Bloomberg Businessweek does. The magazine’s latest cover story focuses on former UNC President and two-time Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Erskine Bowles, his Republican sidekick Alan Simpson, and their ongoing efforts to get someone to pay attention to their deficit reduction recommendations.
Simpson and Bowles became unlikely celebrities after failing to carry off one of President Obama’s more ambitious first-term endeavors. In 2009 he appointed them to lead his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, a bipartisan group that was supposed to produce a “grand bargain” both parties could endorse to bring the country’s long-term spending and revenue into alignment. Their deliberations yielded a plan that reduced the federal deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years, mainly by cutting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the military budget; raising taxes mostly on high earners; and curtailing popular-but-expensive tax breaks such as the one for home mortgage interest.
It went nowhere. The members of the Simpson-Bowles commission, as it became known, deadlocked, and the report they produced couldn’t muster the support necessary to force Congress to vote on it. Obama declined to endorse the commission’s plan.
Rather than shelve it, the co-chairmen hit the road. They found an audience eager to pay $40,000 a pop to hear the prescriptions that Congress and the president ignored and savor Simpson’s blunt (and often profane) descriptions of Washington’s ineptitude. Today, Simpson and Bowles circulate in a gilded world of financial conferences, corporate speeches, and television studios, propounding their solution to the country’s fiscal predicament. They’ve made themselves Washington’s best-known Jeremiahs, a role they plainly enjoy. “I’ve never seen two D.C. insiders who spend as much time together and seem to like each other as much as these two do,” says Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and a close ally. “They’ll sneak off after these intense policy sessions and hang out together, just the two of them even though they’ve been traveling the country four or five days a week. It’s a fiscal bromance.”