Bowles: “The Era of Deficit Denial Is Over”

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The bipartisan fiscal commission created by President Obama in February was due to vote on its final report by December 1. But at a press conference on Capitol Hill a little over an hour ago its chairmen, Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, said there’s been a change of plan. Bowles and Simpson have come up with a revised version of the draft plan they released a couple of weeks ago, to catcalls from both the left (especially) and the right. They’re waiting for some final number-crunching and will release it either tonight or tomorrow morning. Then they’ll give the panel’s other members to decide whether or not they’ll support the final product. (Bowles and Simpson were vague about how much the plan might have changed from its earlier iteration and how, only saying that it hadn’t been “watered down.) Fourteen of the commission’s 18 members need to vote yes to give it a formal seal of approval, meaning that Bowles and Simpson need to find a dozen more votes for their final product. “We’ll get somewhere between two and 14 votes,” Bowles jokingly predicted–while conceding that a unanimous vote that can bring together the likes of Republican Congressman Paul Ryan and SEIU president Andy Stern. But Bowles said that, whatever happens, the commission will have achieved “victory” by starting a national conversation about the federal debt. “The era of deficit denial in Washington is over,” the North Carolinian and former Clinton White House chief of staff drawled.

Not all the commission’s members approach the endgame with good feelings about the process. Near the end of the press conference Bowles and Simpsons held in the Senate’s Hart office building, commission member and liberal Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky wandered up to the margins of the press scrum, trying to listen in. Speaking to reporters afterwards, Schakowsky–who was sharply critical of the draft Bowles-Simpson plan’s reductions in Social Security benefits, among other things, and who has offered her own alternative–said that she’d been out of the loop on Bowles and Simpson’s latest moves and asked whether the reporters had any details. Schakowsky hadn’t even known that the vote was being pushed back to Friday. “I’m not on the must-call list,” she said. Don’t expect her to support the final product.