Simpson-Bowles and Dodd-Frank, explained

October 4, 2012

Alan Simpson, Erskine Bowles, Chris Dodd and Barney Frank are all about to be a major part of the presidential campaign.

Google analytics show the debt-reduction bill named for Simpson and Bowles and the Wall Street reform bill spearheaded by Dodd and Frank were the fastest rising search terms during Wednesday's debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney.


(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

So what are the measures and why do they matter in the campaign? Here's a rundown: 

What is Simpson-Bowles? 

It's the shorthand term for the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which Obama created by executive order in February, 2010. Bowles, a former White House aide to Bill Clinton and Simpson, a former Republican senator, co-chaired the bipartisan group, whose goal was to address the nation's mounting debt, in the wake of congressional inaction. 

In December, 2010, the commission took a vote on a proposal that called for a combination of spending cuts and tax increases requiring a supermajoirty to pass. It fell short. Had it passed, the measure would have moved to Congress for a vote. 

Why does it matter in the presidential campaign?

Obama never fully embraced the Simpson-Bowles plan in the aftermath of the 2010 vote, and Romney says he should have. "The president should have grabbed that," he said Wednesday night.

Obama says his $4 trillion deficit reduction plan resembles the Bowles-Simpson proposal. Romney says his own plan isn't Simpson-Bowles, but has noted similarities in the two approaches. 

Here's what it boils down to: Romney is using Simpson-Bowles to charge that Obama has not taken sufficient action on the nation's debt. Obama, meanwhile has been arguing that Romney is unwilling to adopt a balanced approach to reducing the deficit. He has noted that that during a Republican debate, Romney rejected even a 10-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases (which is more one-sided than than the 3-1 Simpson-Bowles proposal). 

One more connection to the election: Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was on the commission and voted against the proposal, saying the plan fell short of addressing health-care entitlements

What about Dodd-Frank?

Dodd-Frank is a bill Obama signed in 2010 that expanded federal financial regulation. It is named for Frank, who was the House Financial Services chairman when the bill moved through Congress, and Dodd, who chaired the Senate Banking Committee at the time.

Why does it matter in the presidential campaign?

Romney has pledged to repeal and replace it. Obama has defended it.

At Wednesday's debate, Romney said the measure "includes within it a number of provisions that I think has some unintended consequences that are harmful to the economy."

Obama pushed back, saying it guards against the "reckless behavior" that caused the financial crisis.

In a nutshell, Romney is arguing that Obama has spearheaded harmful regulations and Obama is arguing that Romney wants to return the country to state of affairs that set the stage for a financial collapse in the first place. 

"Does anybody out there think that the big problem we had is that there was too much oversight and regulation of Wall Street? Because if you do, then Governor Romney is your candidate. But that’s not what I believe."

Sean Sullivan covers national politics for “The Fix.”
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