Bowles-Simpson has been a watershed. When the co-chair mark was first released, many assumed that the right would vehemently reject the proposals as they represented a departure from many aspects of Republican orthodoxy. It has a commonplace on the left to mock and deride Tea Party activists and candidates to call for spending cuts without making any specific recommendations, and indeed exempting large swathes of the federal budget from cuts or structural reforms. This mockery is appropriate: it’s hard to take a self-described believer in lean government seriously if she or he isn’t even willing to contemplate, say, cuts to Social Security for high-earners.
Bowles-Simpson proposed many deep cuts and reforms. And it also embraced an approach to tax reform that recognizes the central importance of maintaining low marginal rates and eliminating deductions that badly distort economic decision-making. Despite the political risks, many congressional Republicans have embraced it, including Senators Tom Coburn and Mike Crapo, two rock-ribbed conservatives. I found the statement they released serious, intelligent, and refreshing. Much of it is devoted to the sound view that Bowles-Simpson doesn’t go far enough to address the cost of PPACA and Medicare, which is the reason Rep. Paul Ryan and others have chosen not to endorse the plan.