The deficit panel's 'painful' $200 billion cuts: Too extreme?

The leaders of the presidential debt-reduction panel propose slashing everything from military spending to Social Security benefits

How can we trim the deficit?
(Image credit: Corbis)

The chairmen of President Obama's bipartisan deficit commission unveiled their proposal to make "painful" spending cuts and eliminate $100 billion in tax breaks, triggering what Republicans and Democrats alike say is an overdue debate on balancing the federal budget. The draft from former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former senator Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) faced immediate criticism: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it "simply unacceptable," and several of the commission's 18 members promised big changes before they issue a final report on Dec. 1. Did Bowles and Simpson go too far, or not far enough? (Watch a Fox News discussion about the recommendations)

They are right — cutting the national debt will hurt: Bowles and Simpson have done the nation a favor, say the editors of The Washington Post, by laying out "in chastening detail precisely how deep and widespread the pain will have to be to get the nation's finances on a sustainable path." Their plan would cut nearly $4 trillion from the deficit by 2020, but only after cutting sacred cows, from military spending to Social Security to the "immensely popular tax breaks for mortgage interest." Fixing our finances requires an "adult conversation," and this is a start.

"The fiscal commission's ambitious plan to reduce the deficit"

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

These guys can't be serious: "If you're sincerely worried about the U.S. fiscal future," says Paul Krugman in The New York Times, you don't propose cutting income tax rates, even if you offset the cuts by eliminating tax breaks elsewhere. "Balancing the budget is hard enough without giving out a lot of goodies" — goodies that everybody knows "would go largely to the very affluent." By focusing as much on slashing the government's tax revenue as its spending, Bowles and Simpson showed they aren't serious about getting anything done.

"Unserious people"

The problem is the proposal does not go far enough: The debt commission chairs don't "pull punches on how desperate our fiscal condition has become," says Samuel R. Staley at National Review, but their plan isn't ambitious enough. They propose balancing the budget in 30 years and reducing tax receipts to 21 percent of GDP. But "even more radical fiscal surgery will be needed if we really want to get a handle on federal spending" and promote economic growth.

"Not far enough"

Neither side is ready for a serious debate: "If we lived in a country with adult political parties," says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway, "liberals would recognize that social spending would have to be cut, and conservatives would recognize that defense spending cuts and tax increases would have to be on the table." Instead, leftwingers "accusing the GOP of wanting to starve Grandma," and rightwingers call Democrats tax-and-spend addicts. And Congress dithers while the debt rises.

"Debt commission draft report calls for spending cuts, and tax increases"

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us