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Dean Baker
Published: Tuesday 6 March 2012
“There was no Bowles-Simpson commission report and there was no document that commanded the necessary majority of commission members to be adopted as an official report.”

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Bowles-Simpson Commission Report

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Parents often find it useful to tell their children about non-existent creatures to instill habits of good behavior. It seems that many political leaders are going the same route. How else can one explain the repeated references to the Bowles-Simpson commission report and its advice to the country on how to reduce the deficit?

The point here is a simple one: there was no Bowles-Simpson commission report. There was no document that commanded the necessary majority of commission members to be adopted as an official report. This should be an easy one that even Washington elites can understand.

The Bowles-Simpson commission, formally known as the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, was a presidential commission created in February of 2010. The two co-chairs were Morgan Stanley Director Erskine Bowles and former Senator Alan Simpson.

Under the rules established by President Obama, the commission was supposed to issue a report by December 1, 2010. To be adopted, a report had to have the support of 14 of the 18 commission members. There was no report that had the 14 votes needed to be approved.

The document that is referred to as the commission report is in fact a report of the co-chairs, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. This document was put to a vote of commission members on Dec. 3(two days after the official deadline) and received the support of 11 of the 18 members, not the 14 needed to be approved.

Ever since this vote, supporters of the co-chairs’ proposal have referred to the report as being the commission report, as though it actually had been approved. For example, last week the New York Times ran a major political piece on the fate of the Bowles-Simpson commission report. Only near the end did the piece mention in passing that the report actually did not have the votes needed to be approved by the commission. There is probably not a day that goes by without some similar misrepresentation of the co-chairs’ report by a news outlet or politician.

The notion that it takes more than a majority in some bodies to win approval should not be hard for our political leadership to understand. It takes 60 votes to get a measure through a Senate filibuster. There are all sorts of measures that were blocked in the Senate with votes of 56 to 44 or 58 to 42 in favor. Similarly, most jury verdicts must be unanimous. Juries do not convict people with votes of 10 to 2 or even 11 to 1. It’s got to be 12 to 0.

The same people who refer to the Bowles-Simpson commission report have no problem recognizing that a bill does not pass the Senate unless it gets by a filibuster or that a jury divided 10 to 2 or 11 to 1 has not reached a verdict. Yet they insist on attributing the report of the co-chairs to the commission as a whole.

Presumably this reflects the fact that they can’t contain their enthusiasm for the report. After all, the report contains many of the themes that the Washington punditry has been pushing for decades. It calls for substantial cuts to both Social Security and Medicare. This position is hugely unpopular with people across the political spectrum as both liberals and conservatives recognize the importance of these programs to their own economic security and to the vast majority of people in the country.

However the Washington elite is comprised of people who do not need these benefits. For them, money that is paid out in Social Security and Medicare benefits is money that could have been in the pockets of the wealthy.

The co-chairs report has other ways to put money into the pockets of the wealthy even more directly. It calls for cutting the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. While this rate reduction is supposed to be offset by the elimination of loopholes, leaving it revenue neutral, few would bet that this sort of “reform” would actually turn out that way.

Similarly, Bowles and Simpson want to reduce individual tax rates on the wealthy, again to be offset by reductions in loopholes. Not many people would bet that the 1 percent would suffer in that deal, either.

In short, the report of the co-chairs is an outline for redistributing even more income upward. For this reason it is not likely to get much support from the public if considered on its merits. Presumably this is why the elites keep claiming the existence of a Bowles-Simpson commission report. They are hoping that they can force the public to give this document way more respect than it deserves.



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ABOUT Dean Baker
Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University. He is the author of several books, including Plunder & Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy, The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer and The United States Since 1980. He was the editor of Getting Prices Right: The Debate Over the Consumer Price Index, which was a winner of a Choice Book Award as one of the outstanding academic books of the year. He appears frequently on TV and radio programs, including CNN, CBS News, PBS NewsHour, and National Public Radio. His blog, Beat the Press, features commentary on economic reporting. He received his B.A. from Swarthmore College and his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan.

"way more respect than it

"way more respect than it deserves[?]"

Au, contraire. Methinks I've given it about all that it does deserve, and I'm stopping while I'm ahead. After all, what's so wrong with a "report" prepared outside of its mandated Commission procedure, that pulled in nine full votes -- outside the votes of the two who wrote it? After all, if they HADN'T gone outside of the process, if you remember, they wouldn't have gone ANYWHERE.

Of course there are those problematic "other" votes NOT to accept the report, but this isn't how DC does business, I'm afraid. Bankers know just how much respect they get in that town, and believe me, they are not going to soft-peddle their influence, now.

When a banker "losing" some percentage of what he WANTED to be making cries foul, we don't stop to ask what the foul was. No, we do the "sensible" Capitalistic thing. We follow their lifted finger, for a sign on which way to jump, and then we throw out the babies, women, grandmas, Korans, and Habeus Corpus, so we can by-God jump the way we are told to.

After all, the bankers know best, do they not?

What else could be right, I ask you? We simply have no better way to get what WE need, than to give the big boys Alla our money.

Er, Our Money Allah. Er, something like that.

FICA contributions remain the

FICA contributions remain the single greatest creditor to the U.S. treasury.

FICA has loaned the government more than China and more than Japan.

The wealthy overclass want their debt forgiven. And they want their taxes at rock bottom. These are the thieves that destroyed the world economy and have never had to answer for their crimes.

If the Bush tax cuts are not allowed to expire, social security and medicare will be slashed. There is no mistaking this.

President Obama created the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission. The question is why would he do this at the behest of anti New Deal zealot Pete Peterson? I have been extremely suspicious of the president ever since.

Someone should fax this

Someone should fax this article to Joe Scarborough @ Morning Joe immediately...he refers to "the Bowles-Simpson report " almost daily !! He calls it the report that President Obama "ignored" !!

Obama has repeatedly spoken

Obama has repeatedly spoken about Bowles-Simpson. He created it! The question is -why did he create it?

Joe is just doing his job spreading misinformation. I see him as aligned with the President but using weasel words of discontent. We see this every day in the media. If you have your thinking cap on you can cut through the bullshit to the hidden motive underneath.

We need to return taxes to what they were before Reagan started this deficit spending buy cutting taxes on the filthy rich.

perhaps the whole bureaucracy

perhaps the whole bureaucracy of the Federal Government should relocate to, ah lets say some abandoned missile complex on the prairie and start over.

Most of our elected officials...

Bring the Constitution and leave the Federal Reserve

They are guilty of

They are guilty of "newspeak."

We need Tax Reform more than

We need Tax Reform more than anything in order to get our great country back to Greatness. "Tax Em Like 1938" is my motto, and it is exactly what we need today. This Great Recession is identical to the Great Depression of the 1930's and we need need a president and administration to do the same as FDR to get us out of it. They were both brought about by shrinking of the taxes on the rich and the lowering of the top marginal tax rate. We need to tax the rich like the leaders of the past following the the mistake in 1925 through 1931. The top marginal rate went from 46% in 1924, and dropped to 25% for 1925 - 1931, which was a big mistake. Because this was one of the major factors contributing to the Great Depression. In 1932 they raised the amount of brackets to 55 brackets and a top marginal rate of 63% for income over $16.3 Million. By raising the amount of brackets to 55 from 23 was a a good move but the clincher was raising the top marginal rate to 63% from 25%. we need to push for our Congress to raise the brackets and the top marginal rate. "Tax Em Like 1938" is my motto. In 1938 we had 33 brackets from 4% for all income up to $64,000. all the way up to 79% for income over $79,000,000.

Thank you Mr. Baker for

Thank you Mr. Baker for revealing the truth about this non commission. It seems unfortunate that no commission/report of whatever political stripe (all economics being political) would be adopted given the political climate in Washington, essentialy leaving no way forward, with guidance from the economically minded for the government. If this were not so I would suggest a committee composed of Dean Baker,Michael Hudson, and Robert Schiller as economic soothsayers for the government. All predicted the subprime crash.

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