Games or obstinacy?

Tart-tongued former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson has long expressed optimism that Congress and the president would eventually pass a bipartisan measure to deal with debt and the fiscal cliff facing the nation beginning Jan. 1.

He sounded far more pessimistic Monday, when he told a New York City audience, “I don’t really feel they are playing games now. I think they are totally confused.”

A big question in Washington currently, as Republicans and President Barack Obama trade budget proposals and barbs, is this: Are they playing a dangerous game of chicken, hoping to reach an acceptable compromise at the eleventh hour? Or are both sides so obstinate they would rather see the economy go over the cliff than make any real concessions?

Simpson was the co-chairman — along with Democrat Erskine Bowles — of the commission appointed by Obama to recommend ways to deal with the nation’s debt and deficit. It issued its recommendations two years ago this month, which are now known as the Simpson-Bowles plan. But they drew little support from members of Congress or the president.

However, there are reports from Washington this week that increasingly, members of both parties are looking at a modified Simpson-Bowles plan as a fallback position to avoid the fiscal cliff.

Both Colorado senators, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, this week expressed their concerns about the looming problems if we go over the cliff. Their statements came after Obama on Monday rejected the latest proposal from House Republicans.

Udall and Bennet have both expressed support for the Simpson-Bowles plan. And Bennet has been working with Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee to craft a separate compromise plan to avoid the cliff.

The House GOP plan offered Monday wasn’t perfect, but it was a legitimate proposal, raising an estimated $800 billion in revenue by closing tax loopholes. But it wouldn’t have raised tax rates on the wealthy, and Obama has said repeatedly he won’t accept any plan that doesn’t include such tax hikes.

Obama also dismissed the revenue part of the GOP plan, arguing that we can’t get $800 billion in new revenue over 10 years by closing tax loopholes. He said $300 billion to $400 billion is more realistic.

But that’s not what his own deficit group — the Simpson-Bowles commission — determined. Its recommendations call for eliminating most tax deductions and credits, leaving limited deductions for home mortgages and charitable contributions. The plan estimated more than $800 billion in new revenue could be raised that way.

There it is again — the Simpson-Bowles plan. We don’t know who’s playing games now and who’s just being obstinate. But those really interested in avoiding the fiscal cliff and working to reduce long-term debt should embrace the Simpson-Bowles plan, as Udall and Bennet have done.


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