WHAT OTHERS SAY: Simpson-Bowles right for the job

Dec. 14, 2012 @ 05:00 AM


As the days dwindle before the U.S. government reaches its fiscal cliff, there is a place where both parties should be looking to find a compromise.

The Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission provides an outline for how Democrats and Republicans can come together and avoid the kind of mess to which we'll wake on New Year's Day if they fail to do so.

Their plan itself is not quite the answer, for reasons we will state later. But the process through which Erskine Bowles, a veteran of the Clinton White House, and former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming reached their agreement is.

Both are smart men who are experts in government budgets. We in North Carolina know Greensboro native Bowles well for the good work he did as president of the UNC system and for his service as chief of staff for Clinton, who led his Democratic party to a successful, business-friendly middle ground. In the process, Bowles was often "the adult in the room" that critics have clamored for during the fiscal-cliff impasse.

And Bowles and Simpson know how to reach a settlement among competing sides.

Their plan is not perfect. Congress rejected it, and President Obama has all but ignored it.

A recent analysis by The Washington Post explains why a plan that sounds so good when summarized — it significantly shrinks the federal deficit by spreading the pain evenly — is politically unacceptable. It proposes $2.6 trillion in tax increases over 10 years. That's more than Obama, $1.6 trillion, and the House GOP, $800 billion, combined. And the ratio of tax cuts to spending cuts is almost one-to-one, with cuts only slightly higher.

With dire consequences staring at us from the other side of the holidays, the American people need a few statesmen to step forward. This is never easy in a negotiation. No bargainers want to crack first and give away too much of what they consider important.

That's where Bowles and Simpson can come in. If drawn into the process, they can help shape alternative proposals that will reflect that both sides are winning on key points while also sacrificing on others.

The fact that they have done this kind of bargaining with each other clearly demonstrates that they are right for the job.