For Republicans, the cure is an austerity program. Mitt Romney promises to lower taxes, a tremendous gift to the super-wealthy. If Romney were to follow the lead of his running mate Paul Ryan, Medicare would be turned into a scrambled mess that was the merely a husk of its former self.
For Democrats, Barack Obama has called for raising tax rates on the wealthiest of Americans. At the same time, he will seek targeted government spending in order to crank up the economy.
Of course, the big issue on the table is the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act of 2010. Obama is counting on it to get health care spending on a more reasonable level. Romney has pledged to demolish Obamacare.
If Americans have the sense we’ve already been down this path in recent history, they are right.
In early 2010, Congress authorized the creation of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. It became better known as Simpson-Bowles, shorthand for the names of the co-chairs, Alan Simpson, a Republican former U.S. senator from Wyoming, and Erskine Bowles, a Democrat and former chief of staff to Bill Clinton.
The commission’s 18 members were made up of Democrats and Republicans. Some were members of Congress and others came from the private sector. Among the members was Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican congressman now working to become Romney’s vice president.
By the end of the year, Simpson-Bowles had prepared a set of recommendations its co-chairs had ominously called “The Moment of Truth.” The report included a mixture of policies. Among them were increases in taxes, strategic cuts to entitlement programs and spending reductions that spared no sacred cows, even the Defense Department.
It was tough medicine with something for every unbending ideologue to dislike. Eleven of the commission’s 18 members voted to approve the plan, less than the 14 required to formally forward the proposal to Congress.
It’s telling that vice presidential candidate Ryan voted against the commission’s recommendations. Equally frustrating was Obama’s initial arms-length relationship with the plan.
Instead of trying to move forward, both political parties in Washington have opted to play for more time, to ramp up the brinksmanship just a little more.
Now we find ourselves in the middle of a presidential race, still waiting on policies that will address these crying needs. For that matter, we’re still waiting on specifics from the campaigns on what their candidate would actually do should he win in November.
In the opening of its report, National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform’s authors wrote, “We believe neither party can fix this problem on its own, and both parties have a responsibility to do their part. The American people are a long way ahead of the political system in recognizing that now is the time to act. We believe that far from penalizing their leaders for making the tough choices, Americans will punish politicians for backing down – and well they should.”
Those words are just as true today as they were in December 2010.