The super-committee that is charged with cutting at least $1.2 trillion from the deficit may not be so super after all. With the Nov. 23 deadline looming large, there is very little indication that the committee members are getting closer to reaching a deal. If they fail to reach an agreement, the all-important trigger of automatic spending cuts kicks in. With that in mind, one cannot help but wonder where President Obama stands on all of this. For someone that tries to portray himself as the adult in the room, it is ironic that he is in fact not in the room. For a president that many thought would exemplify a new kind of leadership, and a refreshing boldness, it is disappointing that he has taken a backseat to members of Congress on one of the most important issues the country faces: the national debt. To be fair, President Obama did try to negotiate a “grand bargain” with Speaker John Boehner of approximately $4 trillion in savings but progress was thwarted by disagreements over taxes.
Just last year, President Obama created a bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, widely known as the Simpson-Bowles Commission. After hours, days, and weeks of building trust, the committee eventually put forth a comprehensive plan. Their proposal includes a $200 billion reduction in discretionary spending, $100 billion in tax revenues, and a total of $4 trillion in savings over ten years. A proposal that many economists believe is precisely the right size and scope of what is needed to improve the country’s fiscal outlook. So why did the president fail to support this plan? Or use it as a framework for negotiations about debt reduction? Or better yet, push for an up or down vote in Congress? Perhaps it was because the White House believed that a plan that included significant cuts to entitlement programs will be damaging to the Democratic Party and could hurt President Obama’s re-election prospects. If so, that was a short-sighted political calculation. It overestimated the short-term political fall-out and ignored the long-term political gain for a president that changes the country’s fiscal trajectory for the better and puts entitlement programs on a more sound footing for future generations.
President Obama should’ve championed this proposal. He should’ve explained with sincerity, veracity and clarity to the American people about the consequences of an escalating national debt, its long-term effects on the entitlement programs, and why a comprehensive plan like Simpson-Bowles is what is needed. Then he should’ve met in the White House with the three Republican Senators in the Commission that supported the proposal (Judd Gregg, Tom Coburn and Michael Crapo) to discuss how to get their Republican colleagues on board. He should’ve also met with Congressional leaders in both Parties to talk about how to coalesce around the proposal and reach a deal. This would’ve been a great start to coalition building, and a strong showing of presidential leadership. It would’ve shown voters that he understands the depth of the fiscal challenges the country faces, that he’s thinking about it, and trying to solve it. It would’ve made him look big.
Meanwhile, is the plan perfect? No it’s not. There isn’t a perfect plan. But it would’ve been a good start; it would’ve gotten the ball rolling and people talking. Maybe it would’ve passed in Congress but we’ll never know because President Obama didn’t push for it. Now we all have to wait with our fingers crossed hoping that the super committee lives up to its name. Let’s hope it does.