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Simpson-Bowles Resurrected for House Budget Vote

The House vote on the budget will not just include an up-or-down vote on the Paul Ryan version. As per custom, several budgets will get a vote that day. The Republican Study Group introduced their budget, which slashed spending even further and more quickly than Ryan’s and cut Medicaid more deeply, today. Hardline conservatives who support the RSG plan are in fact taking credit for making Ryan’s budget even tougher. The Congressional Progressive Caucus has their Budget for All, which sees deeper deficits than the Ryan budget in FY2013 but smaller ones over time, thanks to the ending of wars and raising of taxes on corporations and the wealthy. A full rundown of that budget plan can be found here, and there are some really good components to it, like ending the mortgage interest deduction for second homes, and enacting a health insurance public option, just to pick two. And, House Democrats released their own alternative, from Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen, yesterday. It’s mainly a Budget for All-lite.

But there’s another version out there, one from what I’ll term the Wanker Caucus, looking to just put Simpson-Bowles on the House floor:

Monday night, a bipartisan group of House members including Reps. Jim Cooper (D-TN) Steve LaTourette (R-OH), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Charlie Bass (R-NH), Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Tom Reed (R-NY), introduced the Simpson-Bowles plan as a budget alternative to the powerful House Rules committee. Usually these alternatives are ruled in order, and if that holds for this plan, the full House will have an opportunity to back up their words with votes.

If it passed, it would unseat the GOP’s consensus plan, drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as the incumbent budget for the House — and it’s hard to imagine GOP leaders allowing that to happen. But that would give the lie to the criticisms they and others have lobbed at Obama for failing to embrace the plan himself.

As a political maneuver this could hurt Republicans more. After all, they run the House, and they’ve been making the point that Obama ran away from Simpson-Bowles. So if they run away too, that neutralizes the argument. However, this bipartisan plan is just as dumb as Simpson-Bowles, and it will serve to keep Simpson-Bowles alive as if it’s a serious plan.

Just look at their executive summary. My favorite part is this:

Limits long-term growth for federal health care spending to GDP +1%

Um, OK. How? I know how Simpson-Bowles accomplished this: with the famous “magic asterisk.” They just decreed that growth would be limited and imitated Jean-Luc Picard by saying “Make it so.” In Simpson-Bowles, there is absolutely no mechanism to limit health care cost growth in this fashion, and I suspect that there’s no mechanism in this Wanker Caucus proposal either. And if you correctly believe that the entire issue of the federal budget deficit comes down to health care spending, then you cannot see Simpson-Bowles as a legitimate solution, any more than “Whip Inflation Now” buttons were a legitimate solution to rising prices in the Ford Administration.

The document also calls it a “balanced approach” to reduce the deficit with 2/3 spending cuts and 1/3 “tax reform” – they couldn’t even bring themselves to say tax increases – which includes lowering overall rates.

What should concern people is that Simpson-Bowles comes to be seen as a serious, bipartisan alternative, when it’s a fantasy plan, as much as Ryan’s budget in that respect, and one that may cause milder suffering than Ryan’s, but still causes plenty of suffering.

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David Dayen

David Dayen