Wanted: Debt-plan details from Obama, Romney
Contrary to recent distractions, Americans shouldn’t base their 2012 presidential choice on which candidate paid a higher percentage of his income in taxes over the last 12 years or committed fewer alleged “gaffes” over the last 12 months. It should instead elect the person most likely to make the hard decisions required for averting a fast-approaching fiscal train wreck.
Thus, the candidates should address — in detail — the recommendations of the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, which was co-chaired by former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson (a Republican) and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles (a Democrat).
Which of the proposals of that panel do they support?
Which do they oppose?
Why has President Barack Obama, after appointing the commission in early 2010, refused to back — or take — the advice it offered late that year?
And while Mr. Romney has expressed general support of the panel’s recommendations, why hasn’t he specifically committed to the deep spending cuts and possible tax-revenue “enhancements” they entail?
The panel’s plan isn’t necessarily the best way out for America to reverse its potentially disastrous course toward crushing debt.
But it is a good place to start what should be a crucial debt debate in this presidential race.
The commission advocated eliminating many loopholes while simplifying the tax code, imposing significant federal spending cuts and fundamentally reforming entitlement programs by raising eligibility ages and reducing benefits.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has been stressing Mr. Romney’s praise of the panel, told host Candy Crowley on CNN’s “State of the Union” last Sunday: “I’m willing to do the Bowles-Simpson plan. Not one person who has looked at this in a bipartisan way said you need to raise tax rates. Bowles-Simpson says let’s flatten the tax code, let’s eliminate all deductions but two, take the money to pay down rates, and to pay off debt.”
Sen. Graham also warned that if “sequestered” spending cuts, a provision of last year’s debt-ceiling deal, take effect on schedule at the start of 2013, they will inflict severe consequences on both America’s economy and its military capabilities.
Sen. Graham said, “What we should all be doing is fixing sequestration in a bipartisan manner. Both candidates should pledge, ‘If I get to be president of the United States, we’re going to do Bowles-Simpson,’ ” later adding, “I think Governor Romney has said he would embrace Bowles-Simpson.”
But voters, before making their presidential choice, shouldn’t have to “think” about whether Mr. Romney or Mr. Obama would summon the political courage to advance tough budgetary calls.
They should know.
Meanwhile, though their commission has disbanded, Mr. Simpson and Mr. Bowles have begun a new deficit-reduction initiative known as Fix the Debt. Co-chaired by former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (a Democrat) and former New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg (a Republican), the coalition of business leaders, fiscal specialists and ex-elected officials hit the ground running last month.
The group’s website succinctly sounds this bottom-line alarm: “An effective plan must stabilize the debt as a share of the economy and put it on a downward path.”
So let the presidential race’s defining debt debate begin.
And please, President Obama and Mr. Romney, let Americans know how you plan to slow down our runaway debt train.