Andrew Sullivan and the Fiscal Commission.

Andrew Sullivan praises the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission and the president, apparently trying to distance himself from the left:

Some left-liberal anti-debt measures do not trouble me too much: a hefty tax on Wall Street would be fine by me, for example, and obviously Obama is going to have to incorporate some more liberal debt-reduction measures. But it is clear to me that the only debt plan that can fly is one where the spending cuts-tax hike mix is at least 2 - 1. Much of that has to come from Medicare. And a great deal could be won by eliminating tax loopholes, while not lowering overall tax rates quite as much as Bowles-Simpson.

It's worth noting that most liberals complaining about the president's pay freeze idea are mostly echoing Sullivan's own critique -- that this is a tiny measure, made more for its questionable value as a political statement than its impact on the federal bottom line; it's not a real vision of responsibility. On a similar note, most of the liberals critiquing the fiscal commission's working paper are talking about specific problems -- using it as a venue to lower taxes for the wealthy, for instance, or to raise the Social Security retirement age -- but are broadly comfortable with its approach and mechanisms.

What tickles me most, though, is Sullivan's insistence that the spending cuts-tax hikes mix should be 2 to 1, because the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission doesn't come close to that. Check out these numbers, which were produced by the committee and shared with me:


You'll notice that while the initial balance is 3 to 1 in favor of spending cuts to revenues, it shifts rapidly to a 56-44 split over the next eight years; that's in comparison to the president's discretionary-spending baseline. The key factor here is that the fiscal commission's working paper factored in the end of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy but didn't publicize that fact to avoid conservative backlash. Once you lift the veil on the tax cuts' termination, though, you can see what a crucial role those tax increases play in the plan; heck, merely eliminating the implied debt service saves $200 billion over 10 years. This is the plan that Sullivan has already endorsed, despite his claim today that only a 2 to 1 mix could work.

We don't know if the final report released by the commission tomorrow will carry the endorsement of a majority of its members, but it seems that despite Sullivan's rhetoric -- connected, I sadly suspect, to the anachronistic equation of austerity and morality -- he is at least one conservative who would come to the table for a near 50-50 deal on taxes and spending to get to a sustainable budget.

-- Tim Fernholz

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