Every Single Fiscal Cliff Plan is Allegedly "Based on Simpson-Bowles"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 6 2012 2:21 PM

Every Single Fiscal Cliff Plan is Allegedly "Based on Simpson-Bowles"

by Kara Brandeisky

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

When John Boehner said that the GOP’s “counter-offer” to avert the fiscal cliff was based on a framework created by Democrat Erskine Bowles, the Democrat quickly refuted him. “While I’m flattered the Speaker would call something ‘the Bowles plan,’ the approach outlined in the letter Speaker Boehner sent to the President does not represent the Simpson-Bowles plan, nor is it the Bowles plan,” Bowles said in a statement.

But the damage had been done—several media outlets had already reported Boehner’s characterization as fact. “In making a counteroffer to President Obama, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and other senior Republicans suggested that a framework laid out by Democrat Erskine Bowles last year could serve as a starting point for talks aimed at averting the year-end ‘fiscal cliff,’” the Washington Post reported. “After days of Democratic criticism that they lacked a plan, the Republican leadership endorsed a framework first outlined last year by Erskine Bowles,” according to Politico. The Wall Street Journal presented the “Bowles” counter-offer as an objectively bipartisan compromise: “Republicans said they were tempted to respond by offering their own most uncompromising proposal—the House-passed budget from Rep. Ryan that called for a far-reaching overhaul of Medicare and no tax increases. Instead, they drew on a proposal from Erskine Bowles, a Democrat who has been pushing for bipartisan deficit-reduction plans.”

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And that’s the point: this recent kerfuffle is just one of many times that politicians and reporters have used “along the lines of Simpson-Bowles” as shorthand for “a deficit-reduction deal we should all agree on”—while glossing over the actual policy proposals (or lack thereof). Consider:

Ryan Plan
“The final option on the table is contained in the House-passed budget resolution. Like the Simpson-Bowles commission proposals that the president kicked into the gutter, the House undertakes fundamental tax reform that would improve the climate for growth, expansion, hiring and investment by small businesses and entrepreneurs.”
– Douglas Holtz-Eakin, National Review, April 17, 2012

“Fix the Debt”
“The bipartisan group [Fix the Debt] is pushing for a sweeping debt-reduction deal along the lines of the framework developed by the Simpson-Bowles commission in 2010. That report called for a mix of tax increases and spending cuts to trim federal budget deficits.”
Baltimore Sun, November 28, 2012

Gang of Six
“Coburn's a member of the bipartisan ‘Gang of Six’ that is working hard in the Senate for a compromise along the lines offered by the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission that includes both entitlement cuts and an end to most tax code subsidies (the kind that keep corporate lobbyists in business).”
– Jonathan Alter, Bloomberg Businessweek, May 5, 2011

Obama Plan
“The President’s proposal … achieves the target of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that was put forward by the Simpson-Bowles commission, for example, as the kind of deficit reduction that’s necessary over 10 years to put us on a sustainable path, get our fiscal house in order … His proposed savings in health care entitlements in the first 10 years exceed the savings put forward by the Bowles-Simpson commission, the North Star, if you will, of this process.”
– White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, Dec. 4, 2012

Ryan Plan
 “[Paul Ryan] would reform the tax code along the Simpson-Bowles lines, but without the tax increases.”
– David Brooks, New York Times, April 4, 2011

Funny how everyone’s plan is just like Simpson-Bowles, but without all the controversy.

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David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.