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Obama should have used Simpson-Bowles

By Ezra Klein,

Yuri Gripas Reuters The Gang of Six’s plan probably wouldn’t pass under normal circumstances. But I really don’t see how it can pass given that Obama has already offered Boehner a similarly sized deal that is well to the right of the Gang of Six’s plan.

Boehner’s office isn’t confused about this. Their only comment on the Gang of Six plan was that it “shares many similarities with the framework the Speaker discussed with the president, but also appears to fall short in some important areas.” Namely, revenue. The plan the president proposed to Boehner included about a trillion dollars less in revenue than either the Simpson-Bowles plan or the Gang of Six plan. This would be an odd negotiation indeed if Republicans eventually agree to what the president offered them, but insist that it has to include twice as much in new revenue.

I think it’s clear that the Obama administration made a mistake when it let the fiscal commission fizzle. They didn’t need to make the Simpson-Bowles recommendations their own. In fact, it would have been a mistake to do so. But they could have used the document as a way to start the negotiations on the 50-yard line. They could have defined Simpson-Bowles as the tough, unpleasant, serious compromise. Instead, they let the debate begin on their own 20-yard line.

First, they spent a few months letting Republicans hammer them for not having a deficit plan. Then they spent some time watching the Ryan budget emerge, which may have done Democrats some political favors, but dragged the substantive conversation — and Republican legislators — far to the right. Then the president announced his own proposal, which rapidly became the Democratic position in the debate despite the fact that it was well to the right of Simpson-Bowles. Then the president offered Boehner a deal that was well to the right of that.

I’m not confident that a different approach would have led to a “grand bargain.” But I think it’s pretty clear that the approach they took has ensured that if we do get a grand bargain, it will be far worse than the one we would have gotten if the debate had started with Simpson-Bowles rather than with the Ryan and Obama plans.

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