WASHINGTON — Theirs is an improbable buddy act that is making for unlikely entertainment from campuses to corporations on a most serious subject: the federal debt. The proof of their appeal: some business groups pay them $40,000 each per appearance. Really. To discuss budgets and baselines.That failure wasn't so much "perceived" as real. They failed to come up with a plan that the necessary majority of commissions members could agree to support. They also failed to come up with an actual, credible, specific plan. Their Medicare reforms didn't do anything more than the Affordable Care Act. They didn't have solid tax reform, just recommended lowering marginal tax rates for who knows what reason. They dragged Social Security—not a deficit contributor—into the mix unnecessarily, recommending raising the retirement age, again no good reason other than a deep commitment to punishing old people.
Ladies and gentlemen, coming soon to your city or town (if they have not been there already, and maybe even if they have) are the latest odd couple of politics: the 67-year-old Democratic straight man, Erskine B. Bowles of Charlotte, N.C., and his corny 81-year-old, 6-foot-7 Republican sidekick, Alan K. Simpson of Cody, Wyo.
Since the perceived failure two years ago next week of the bipartisan fiscal commission they led for President Obama, they have been on the road, sometimes solo but often together, perfecting a sort of Off Broadway show that has kept their panel’s recommendations alive, and made them a little money as well.
But that's not all there is in this glowing little tribute to the two from Times reporter, Jackie Calmes.
On Tuesday, Mr. Bowles and corporate executives he helped recruit to a “Fix the Debt” campaign met privately at the White House with six senior administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner.It's the basis for all this discussion because Bowles, Simpson, Cote and a whole mess of extremely wealthy CEOs of massive companies have accumulated $60 million to create their Fix the Debt campaign, the campaign that would create a massive windfall for these CEOs by preserving their tax cuts and by providing even more corporate tax breaks. Oh, and they'll pay for it by slashing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
The commission’s report “could have just been put into the dustbin,” said David M. Cote, the chief executive of Honeywell and a panel member. “Instead,” Mr. Cote added, “it’s become the basis for all of this discussion.”
Yeah, that part is left out of this glowing homage to these two characters, which has been the case for just about every piece of traditional media coverage of these two for the past two years. Because the Very Serious People want to believe that these to D.C. fixtures are Very Serious, too. But, as Paul Krugman reminds us, these "are the same people who told us that Paul Ryan was the answer to our fiscal prayers."