The deficit wars continue to rage, with both parties outlining deficit reduction visions that are miles apart. For people who take this issue seriously there is some prospect for success, despite the starkly different visions laid out by both sides over the past week.
Of course there was some fun to be had, as an open mic picked up President Obama talking about budget negotiations with Republicans, disparaging them and specifically denigrating Paul Ryan, who he pointed out voted for the Bush tax cuts (unpaid), the prescription drug bill (unpaid), two wars (still unpaid), all the while talking about deficit cutting. Republicans claim to be for deficit cutting, but they often confuse “tax cutting” with deficit cutting.
The Republican response to the Obama deficit reduction speech was given by Senator Tom Coburn. Now Coburn is a Senator that you cannot make the charge of hypocrisy against, as his anti-deficit bona fides are legitimate. He is a member of the bi-partisan “Gang of Six”, who are using Simpson-Bowles as a tool to try to drive a bi-partisan deficit agreement in the Senate. Coburn was a member of the Simpson-Bowles Commission, and unlike Ryan voted in favor of the Commission’s final report.
Coburn criticizes the President on taxes, specifically over the President’s refusal to embrace reductions in overall tax rates in return for the removal of a myriad of tax deductions and tax expenditures. Ryan proposes such a scheme in his plan, but unlike Simpson-Bowles strives for what he calls “revenue nutrality” in tax simplification. Ryan’s plan rejects the common sense approach of Simpson-Bowles on this issue, refusing again to consider ANY revenue enhancements, even through the tax simplification process. Hopefully Ryan’s position on that issue is an opener, and we can achieve tax code simplification that will produce some additional revenues to pay for the things that we all want to see continue. Coburn’s position brings some Republican sanity to this issue, although I am sure that Democrats don’t see it entirely that way. Coburn has gotten in trouble with Grover Norquist and his band of merry “starve the beasters” over his willingness to consider the elimination of some ridiculous “tax expenditures”, but that story is so good that we have to save it for a separate post. For now I think that it is not as bleak for an ultimate deal as it may look today.