Reducing the national deficit was a defining rallying cry during the midterm elections. Perhaps now political leaders can finally set aside the rhetoric to get serious about what that means. A draft proposal unveiled by the two chairmen of President Barack Obama's debt reduction commission lays out the stark reality. Going forward, everyone could pay more to government and receive less from government. It's time for citizens to think about issues beyond their own self-interest and demand that their political leaders do the same. This is a time for grown-ups.
Obama established the 18-member bipartisan commission over the opposition of both Republicans and members of his own party, who scuttled an effort to get a more muscular commission established by law. In a tacit acknowledgement of how hard it will be to persuade 14 of the 18 members to reach agreement by the Dec. 1 deadline, the commission's co-chairmen, Erskine Bowles, former White House chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, and Alan Simpson, the former Republican Senate leader, have offered their own preliminary plan. It would reduce projected deficits by nearly $4 trillion through 2020. "Real money," as they say in Washington.
Nothing and no one was spared in their efforts. The plan envisions significant cuts in military as well as domestic spending. It includes recommendations to increase taxes on gasoline and to eliminate aspects of the mortgage-interest deduction and the tax-free treatment of employer-paid health benefits. Changes are also proposed to Medicare and Social Security to restrain their growing costs. And there's a recommendation for a public option in health reform. The plan is a bold, sober accounting of the kinds of steps the country needs to take to return to a more solid fiscal footing.
For sure, this plan will undergo additional revisions to win the 14 members it needs if it is to ever to be sent to Congress. But it's in every American's interest that all efforts be made in the commission and ultimately in Congress to keep a cohesive vision of shared sacrifice. Any one of the elements — if taken individually — is a potential deal-breaker. Status quo politics would normally have Democrats putting programs "off the table" with Republicans drawing the line by opposing any tax hikes. But that is exactly what has driven this country to the fiscally unsustainable path it is on and that so angered voters during the midterms. It is only by packaging painful parts together that there is any chance of adoption.
Those elected on Nov. 2 on a platform of smaller government and fiscal responsibility have an obligation — as do the people already in power — to move this conversation forward in a constructive way. That means giving as wide a berth as possible in debate, eschewing the traditional ideological and political fault lines. Both parties, as well as citizens, must agree that the status quo is not something we can afford much longer and that only by working together can a solution be found.