Monday, December 10, 2012

Keep Your Government Hands Off My Catfood Commission!

Tom Tomorrow's latest cartoon baffles me.  It depicts Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles appearing in the Oval Office to offer a nonplussed-looking Barack Obama their help against the "arbitrary, self-imposed budget deadline" he faces. 

You'd think, looking at the cartoon, that Obama had nothing to do with the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.  Of course it was his own bipartisan creation, packed with deficit hawks of his own choosing, including Paul Ryan.  ("Bipartisan" is a keyword in the cartoon, but only to mock Simpson and Bowles.  Obama's own bipartisanship-mongering is not mentioned.)

I looked around the web a little to see if I could find out whose idea the Commision was.  It looks like it was Obama's; he certainly made it his own.  One article I found was from last Monday's New York Times.  The title was a giveaway: "Obama's Unacknowledged Debt to Bowles-Simpson Plan."  Aha!  There was no "Bowles-Simpson Plan."  Another article I stumbled on, from a small newspaper, explained it very well:
“Simpson-Bowles” is shorthand for a bipartisan deficit commission co-chaired by Republican Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles. While the commission never formally issued a report because it never reached consensus on a plan, Simpson and Bowles informally presented a memorandum of their ideas to the Congress and President Obama.
There, that wasn't so hard, was it?  And it's not exactly obscure.  Yet the notion that the Commission produced a report has gone viral in the corporate media.  (So much so that I bought it for a while myself.)  Even if you like the recommendations in their memo, Bowles and Simpson did not speak for the Commission as a whole.  Which hasn't kept them from touring the country giving speeches pushing their recommendations at $40,000 a pop.

The Times article never mentions this. Instead we get stuff like this:
It came just a few months after the president had opted not to endorse the recommendations of a deficit commission he had created in hopes of brokering a bold, bipartisan deficit deal. That gave rise to a portrayal that has stuck, popularized by Republicans, pundits and some Democrats: that the president, out of political timidity, snubbed his own panel’s plan.
There are also allusions to "the major tenets supported by a majority of the commission’s members", "the commission’s report in December 2010," and so on.

To repeat: the "recommendations" did not come from the commission; "his own panel" produced no "plan."  The memorandum the chairmen produced could probably have been written if the commission had never been appointed nor met in solemn convocation -- which would have saved a lot of money right there.  The writer quietly acknowledges reality further down:
On Dec. 1, 2010, Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson unveiled an ambitious package of spending cuts and revenue increases that was supported two days later by 11 of the 18 commissioners — five from each party, including all three conservative Senate Republicans, and an independent business executive. While three votes short of the 14 needed to force a Congressional vote, it raised hopes that the blueprint could lead to compromise between Mr. Obama and Republicans. 
The writer almost admits that the "package" was the work of the two chairmen, not the commission itself, and it didn't get the fourteen-vote supermajority required to force Congressional action.  The commission itself had been packed by Obama with deficit hawks (I mean, Paul Ryan?), without whom I suppose support for the memo would have been even weaker.  But it's an article of faith in the corporate media that Simpson-Bowles could have saved us, even if only by putting forth material for bipartisan compromise that could have ended the gridlock, but President Obama lacked the political will to face down his base.

Read the comments on the Times article if you have the chance and the stomach; they're even more demented, by and large, than the article itself.  Evidently the Times has Hope that President Obama will have the commitment to bring about real Change of the kind wealthy Republicans want: spending cuts of the right kind -- especially Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid -- while leaving the big moneymakers, high-tech industry and its evil twin the military, untouched.
At their recent lunch, Mr. Obama assured Mr. Bowles he would not give up. Mr. Bowles said the president talked of seeing “a real opportunity” for compromise after the election, when Republicans will be eager to avoid the expiration of Bush tax cuts and automatic cuts in military spending — suggesting another chance for a deal inspired by Bowles-Simpson. 

“To see his commitment,” Mr. Bowles said, “gave me real hope.”