The election is 36 days away, and most of the media are churning out their profiles of undecided voters in Ohio and polling snapshots. Only Paul Krugman has broken the illusion, moved past the election and its expected outcome, and focused on the expected policy prescription that lies ahead, the desire of most of official Washington to slash the budget along the lines of a proposal that gets far more credit than it deserves. Krugman, a voice outside Washington, has no problem explaining to everyone that the Bowles-Simpson plan actually stinks.
I ask that question because we already know what Mr. Obama will face if re-elected: a clamor from Beltway insiders demanding that he immediately return to his failed political strategy of 2011, in which he made a Grand Bargain over the budget deficit his overriding priority. Now is the time, he’ll be told, to fix America’s entitlement problem once and for all. There will be calls — as there were at the time of the Democratic National Convention — for him to officially endorse Simpson-Bowles, the budget proposal issued by the co-chairmen of his deficit commission (although never accepted by the commission as a whole) […]
…despite the bizarre reverence it inspires in Beltway insiders — the same people, by the way, who assured us that Paul Ryan was a brave truth-teller — the fact is that Simpson-Bowles is a really bad plan, one that would undermine some key pieces of our safety net. And if a re-elected president were to endorse it, he would be betraying the trust of the voters who returned him to office.
Consider, in particular, the proposal to raise the Social Security retirement age, supposedly to reflect rising life expectancy. This is an idea Washington loves — but it’s also totally at odds with the reality of an America in which rising inequality is reflected not just in the quality of life but in its duration. For while average life expectancy has indeed risen, that increase is confined to the relatively well-off and well-educated — the very people who need Social Security least. Meanwhile, life expectancy is actually falling for a substantial part of the nation.
Krugman only had time in the op-ed to focus on the retirement age increase, but at his blog he expanded a bit further. Bowles-Simpson also lowers marginal tax rates for no discernible reason, and according to Krugman “it offers nothing on Medicare that isn’t already in the Affordable Care Act.” It’s worse than that, actually; it uses a “magic asterisk” to slow health care costs, by merely pronouncing that cost growth will be limited to a certain percentage, without providing any guidance on how to get there. And of course, health care costs represent pretty much all of the budget issues over the long term.