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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press There Was No Bowles-Simpson Commission Report

There Was No Bowles-Simpson Commission Report

Monday, 27 February 2012 05:16

The New York Times badly misled readers by repeatedly referring to a report of the deficit reduction commission led by former Senator Alan Simpson and Morgan Stanley Director Erskine Bowles. There was no report from this commission.

The report discussed in this article was exclusively the report of the co-chairs. It did not receive the necessary support of 14 members of the commission that would have made it an official commission report, a point noted only in passing toward the end of the piece.

This mis-characterization is extremely important in the context of the piece, because the main point of the article is that President Obama ignored the report of a commission he appointed. Since this commission did not approve a report, the premise of the article is wrong.

The piece also misled readers when it asserted that, "benefits for an aging population soon would increase deficits to unsustainable levels." In fact, the main problem is rising private sector health care costs that were projected to make Medicare and Medicaid unaffordable. The increased costs due to aging alone are quite gradual and affordable.

It is also worth noting that much of the projected long-term deficit would disappear if the Affordable Care Act is as successful in containing costs as projected by the Medicare Trustees.

Comments (33)Add Comment
The NY Times Knows Better
written by Charley James, February 27, 2012 6:25
This is simply another example of what happens when economic stories are covered - and edited - by essentially political reporters who dwell in an "inside the Beltway" mentality. Not only was there no Simpson-Bowles report, there was not a definitive statement that an aging population will push deficits to an unsustainable level. Moreover, the article missed another major point: Federal debt as a percent of GDP has been shrinking under Pres. Obama, in part because the Affordable Care Act is starting to come into operation.

The New York Times should know better; this is something I've come to expect from WaPo but not the Times.
better to say it was from the staff, not the chairs..., Low-rated comment [Show]
written by liberal, February 27, 2012 9:51
pete wrote,
The fact that a few holdouts on the commission who probably were ok with it till intense political pressure drove them to vote no is interesting, but does not detract from the sincere effort of the staff.

Frankly, that's just idiotic. Either the report is the official report with its particular imprimateur, or its not.

"Political pressure"? LOL. The entire budget process is political.

As for sincere effort, you have no idea how sincere the effort was. And why is it relevant? I'm sure lots of criminals and other moral monsters are sincere in their effort.

The majority were for it, they just were limited by the same thing as the senate, needing a super-majority, a sure way, as we see, to get nothing done the last umpteen years.

Again, idiotic. The commission was set up to require a supermajority vote. Anything receiving less than what is specified by the rules creating the commission is not an official report. Period.

I myself despise the supermajoritarian nonsense of the Senate myself, but the solution is pretty obvious---get rid of holds and filibusters.

And as for "doing nothing," frequently doing nothing is better than doing something; the devil's in the details.

Perhaps you'd prefer the outcome sketched in this particular report to "doing nothing." Fine. Just don't lie about what the report is, namely, yet another opinion about what should be one, one that doesn't fulfill the requirements mandated to be called the "commission's report."
written by coberly, February 27, 2012 9:57

and yet they got the payroll tax holiday done in a weekend.

you need to realize that you are the victim of a Big LIe. The Times just rolled over the facts, because the facts are inconvenient. There was no "report." Social Security has NO effect on the deficit... now or ever. SS is not going broke. SS benefits will never become unsustainable. But the trick of the Big Lie is to just keep repeating it, and after awhile even those who know it is a lie will start talking "as if" it were true.

The S-B commission was devised as a way to get around "intense political pressure"... that means to get around the will of the people.

it is not the will of the people that is producing "unsustainable deficits". it is the policies of the same big money powers that are always crying about the deficit. the purpose of the deficit is to break the will of the people to use their government to protect them from the big money powers. this is not deep conspiracy. it's right out there in public for anyone to see who hasn't twisted his brain around the Big Lie.
sorry liberal...been there, done that, Low-rated comment [Show]
The Report was the Report of the Co-Chairs
written by Dean, February 27, 2012 10:40

sorry if you feel that your work as a staffer wasn't given sufficient credit, that is the plight of a staffer. Most bills are not written by the member whom they are named after. The great speeches for which politicians are long remembered are most often drafted by anonymous speechwriters.

I am referring to the draft properly. If you are unhappy about not being give appropriate credit, your complaint is with the co-chairs, not me.
coberly, Low-rated comment [Show]
Don't forget the background of the formation of this committee
written by jumpinjezebel, February 27, 2012 10:56
Remember who was for this commission before they fought tooth and nail against it. Codger Simpson and limpdick Bowles did the dirty work against the middle class and elderly to protect the corporations and super rich.
written by coberly, February 27, 2012 12:38

you are so ignorant about SS you are not worth talking to. SS is paid for by the people who will get the benefits. It is no different than saving the money in a bank, except the money is better protected, against inflation mostly, by pay as you go financing.

can't imagine what "staff" you work on, but if your intelligence is representative it would tell us why so much crap comes out of Congress.
written by coberly, February 27, 2012 12:41
pete says

"there is no effect of SS on debt if the payroll taxes keep rising to keep up with the payouts, but that would be darn steep."

actually it would be one half of one tenth of one percent per year. about forty cents per week in today's terms.

but pete may be forgiven, as a "staffer" he must live in Washington, where everyone says whatever he thinks you will believe, whatever the facts.
written by coberly, February 27, 2012 12:45
my comment re SS is like money saved in the bank was oversimplified, but not misleading. it is essentally like money saved in the bank, with an added insurance component, whereby if you don't make enough over a lifetime to afford to retire, a part of the interest earned by those who make more than enough is used to help you out. this is no more welfare than fire insurance is welfare.
Why no mention of the other recommendation to come out of the commission
written by John Q, February 27, 2012 12:48
Bowles-Simpson commission member Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky also issued a report and recommendation.


As there was no official Bowles-Simpson report, shouldn't hers be given equal weight with the other unofficial recommendation?
Fact-based Thinking is Critical
written by Beth in OR, February 27, 2012 2:51
Hope Dean is speaking regularly with Steny Hoyer et al. http://www.democraticwhip.gov/...-reduction
written by TK421, February 27, 2012 6:57
What a ridiculous nit-pick. President Obama plucked these two idiots from the nether regions in which they resided and put them in a position of influence in his administration. We can tell ourselves that isn't the case, but saying it isn't so doesn't make it so. And if you think Obama was shocked and amazed at what Simpson and Bowles came up with, that he never imagined his two hand-picked commitee heads would go in that direction, I have a nice shiny bridge to sell you.
Ezra Klein pushes the same falsehood
written by eRobin, February 27, 2012 7:45
Ezra Klein does the same thing fairly frequently and did again so today: http://www.washingtonpost.com/..._blog.html
written by liberal, February 27, 2012 7:46
pete wrote,
Cutting the payroll tax does lead the way to what should have been obvious, that is ultimately SS is funded with regular income taxes (or debt).

Oh. I guess my SS contributions are monopoly money, then?

The stupid, it burns...
written by liberal, February 27, 2012 7:52
John Q wrote,
As there was no official Bowles-Simpson report, shouldn't hers be given equal weight with the other unofficial recommendation

LOL. Try telling that to "pete".
Staff Rpt
written by james, February 27, 2012 7:54

There's a reason for agencies to label certain reports as staff reports. Most often, they are for internal consumption.

If Pete is still working as a congressional staffer, he likely would or should be PO for having no pay raise for two years. On top of that, the recent payroll tax break for one year will increase Pete's retirement contribution (I could be wrong that was what I heard) as well as all other Federal workers' retirement contribution for LIFE - not for one year.

Staffer would likely have more things to complain about than the use of their staff reports.
let 1000 flowers bloom.....get it all out there....why hide?
written by pete, February 27, 2012 8:03
BTW, there seems to be some confusion, I was not on this commission, that was in a past life, but having been there I believe strongly that there should be a distinction between the work of the troops and the idiot generals. There are plenty of folks working pretty hard and, sorry Liberal, sincerely in DC, for various commissions, and I simply think the Tea Party/Occupy/Anti-DC rhetoric really goes too far. Knowledge is slippery, and we should take advantage of all research, not be constrained by epistemological closure.

Liberal talk these days is that retirees are on the government dole. SS is, as Krugman has opined, a pay as you go system, not investment/insurance as Dean and Co. like to fabricate. This sick Enron- (oops a Krugman favorite) type thinking that there is a trust fund is a fraud which cannot be exposed enough.
ohboy...even the administration thinks there was a report....
written by pete, February 27, 2012 8:08
"Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Thursday explained why President Obama never fully embraced the 2010 report of his fiscal commission, headed by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and Erskine Bowles.

Geithner, under heavy fire from the Senate Budget Committee, said the Obama administration “did not feel” it could embrace it because the cuts to defense were too deep and the reforms to Social Security relied too much on benefit cuts."

Yes, Pete There Is a Trust Fund
written by dean, February 27, 2012 9:34
Sorry Pete, there is absolutely a SS trust fund, which has over $2.5 trillion worth of U.S. government bonds. You can find this in the SS trustees reports, the CBO reports and dozens of other government documents. As they say, this can't be repeated enough times since folks like Peter Peterson are spending billions to deny this reality.
Bi-Partisanship = Overturning Election Results
written by TomInPortland, February 27, 2012 10:01
I never see anyone pointing out the aspect of the Bowles-Simpson Commission that I find most offensive. Namely in 2008 the Democrats chalked up amazing victories at the polls leading to them holding the Executive branch and comfortable numerical majorities of both houses. Had it been the Repulicans that achieved this feat they would have declared it another American Revolution and loudly demanded that the Democrats honor the clear judgement of the people and stand aside, playing no role in producing legislation. What did Obama do? On the fundamental question of future government spending he puts together an equal number of (UNELECTED) Republicans and Democrats in order to be fair, to decide this question. What the hell was the election for if not to decide who gets to make these decisions. Imagine the Miami Heat agreeing to have some of their players play for the competition in order to make an upcoming game against a weaker opponent more fair. Only liberals would agree to this. The big secret is the Democrats agree to bi-partisanship because most of them are to the right of their constituencies so they do not really want to win. Obama needed an excuse to fail to be FDR. Simpson-Bowles was that excuse. He is not FDR, he is a Friedmanite to the core.
written by liberal, February 28, 2012 8:08
pete wrote,
There are plenty of folks working pretty hard and, sorry Liberal, sincerely in DC, for various commissions, and I simply think the Tea Party/Occupy/Anti-DC rhetoric really goes too far.

Your claim about sincerity has no evidence behind it.
Then The White House is Lying, Too.
written by Manny Goldstein, February 28, 2012 8:12
The Moment of Truth: Report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform: http://www.fiscalcommission.go...1_2010.pdf

A majority of the commission voted for the thing.

It even has the White House seal on the front cover!

Speaking of the White House, they too refer to it as the Fiscal Commission Report. From the 2012 Budget:

"The Fiscal Commission’s report opened a debate on many of these topics, such as tax reform and Social Security. The President hopes to build on the work they did to create space to discuss these issues, and begin a process of reform that results in putting the Nation on sound fiscal footing, creating the conditions for long-term economic growth, and doing both in a way that remains true to our most deeply-held values."

(Notice above that, again, Obama is using his hand-picked anti-Social-Security commission as an excuse to continue his assault on Social Security! Shame!)

So while the White House and its flacks might want to pretend that Simpson-Bowles didn't exist, now that election time is here and the 99% are finally realizing how badly they're getting crushed, it certainly did exist in all of its dark majesty.

It's true that they didn't have enough commissioner votes to have their report automatically be subjected to a vote in Congress, but that's different than what the article claims.

So, I request that either you alter this post, or add a post to similarly call out the White House as liars.

written by liberal, February 28, 2012 8:13
pete wrote,
There are plenty of folks working pretty hard and, sorry Liberal, sincerely in DC, for various commissions,...

Sorry, pete, if you're either so ignorant or disingenuous as to claim that the SS Trust Fund is stocked with monopoly money, then you yourself have shown that "staffers" can't be trusted.

Talk about an "own goal"...
written by liberal, February 28, 2012 8:19
pete quoted,
"Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner ...

LOL! So I'm supposed to be swayed by what Geithner says?

pete, do you enjoy making yourself look like a blithering idiot?
written by liberal, February 28, 2012 8:24
TomInPortland wrote,
Only liberals would agree to this.

The people behind those decisions aren't liberals. Obama, for one, is a centrist.
written by liberal, February 28, 2012 8:36
Dean wrote,
You can find this in the SS trustees reports, the CBO reports and dozens of other government documents.

How can that be? Presumably staffers are the ones who actually wrote those reports. And pete is an ex-staffer. And all staffers have sincere, honest, pristine beliefs that are not to be called into question by others. So how could they ever conflict?

Evidence is I was there Liberal...and Dean and the fund.
written by pete, February 28, 2012 8:38
Spent 11 years there, working with a variety of folks at the staff level across different agencies. The politicians do muck it up, but there are plenty of competent and I do think dedicated folks in D.C., who get misused by the pols.

E.g., several years ago economists (not the commission) at the CFTC came out with a report, actually a research paper, attempting to publish etc., showing that as a multitude of other studies have shown, speculative trading per se cannot be blamed for high futures prices, in this case oil and gas prices. Then change of administration. Doesn't fit with priors. Economists sacked. New report, much more in line with priors of new administration. Probably directed by attorneys. Sigh.

Of course there is a book with some numbers on it but this represents claims on federal income taxes or debt. That's what I said above, and what Krugman has pointed out, merely a construct, used by Roosevelt as a way of passing SS (AKA welfare for the aged) with the Republicans in 1930s. It is interesting to do this accounting to dedicate future income taxes/debt in this way, as is also supposedly done for the "highway fund" and medicare. Plus it can lead to fear (oh no! the fund is going broke!) Balderdash. We could probably also create a "defense fund" to dedicate some income taxes to defense. Or education. Etc. But this fund is fraudulent in that it can be used to claim that these 'bonds' (my investment, I "paid in") are going to somehow turn into cash like a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. They are "dedicated" claims against future income taxes or deficits...Most importantly, the SS liabilities exist with or without the fund, and bottom line is that regular income taxes will ultimately pay SS checks, since we are passing the paygo part of the actuarial reality, much quicker now with the payroll tax cut.

That's why it is actually good that Obama has delinked SS from the payroll tax, and just to really nail it, progressive economists are now referring to SS as welfare rather than a defined benefit. That makes it easier to means test medicare and SS, certainly progressives would go for that, due to the increasing concentration on income/wealth inequality. There should be no doubt now that that reduction in the payroll tax is permanent, for it is the only way to reduce "taxes" on the 50% who pay no regular income tax, other than to increase Friedman's negative income tax, the EITC.

Logic and the Bowles-Simpson non-commisions report
written by dean, February 28, 2012 12:26
okay folks, one more time, the rules of the commission were that a report had to be approved by 14 of 18 commissioners. This is like criminal jury that must produce a unanimous verdict.

There was no report that had the support of 14 of 18 commissioners, therefore there was no commission report. This is like a jury where 9, 10, or even 11 can vote to convict. If it is not unanimous, there is no verdict. Got it?
Prove It
written by farang, February 28, 2012 1:08
Charley James: "Moreover, the article missed another major point: Federal debt as a percent of GDP has been shrinking under Pres. Obama, in part because the Affordable Care Act is starting to come into operation."

Sorry, but every statistic coming out of D.C. about "GDP" or "Unemployment figures" or "Economic growth" is just plain hogwash when even briefly examined.....cursory looks find intentional "flaws"....so you'll excuse me if I ask you to prove that assertion.

it's not that I wish to state Obama is the first to do so....but he certainly acts way to self-righteous and above reproach while dangling on Wall Street strings.
Moon(ey)ing the Facts
written by William Hurley, March 01, 2012 12:46
Pardon the forced nature of the pun, but it does comport with the spirit of the most recent research on the right's war on the world in which they (we) live in.

I may be taking liberty with Chris Mooney's work by putting the right's and their enablers' affirmative disregard for the inarguable facts of the President's fiscal commission into his framework describing "educated" idiots, but I think not. Echoing the case atrios has made (repeatedly) regarding MF Global's theft of over $1BB in client funds, the conditions and facts of the "Simpson-Bowles" Commission are anything but complex. Al & Er failed, as Dean clearly notes, to get the number votes their precious a-democratic panel's charter required for their pet preferences to be considered the commission's work product and official recommendations.

Also, as other noted, Ezra Klein is among those who has decided to push this nonsense. As such, his analytical "batting average" continues to plummet toward the "Mendoza line" - which in baseball is the fast-track to involuntary career reinvention but which among the commentariat amounts to "clusters" on the medal of irrelevance marking in-group conformity among pundits. I guess they act as Mooney's research describes by believing in, as pundits, the bizarre moral equivalence that if they're all wrong then none of them are wrong.

Teaser on Mooney
http://www.alternet.org/story/154252/ the_republican_brain:_why_even_educated_conservatives_d

I think this is kind of a useless point
written by Roger, March 03, 2012 9:45
The report is NOT "exclusively the report of the co-chairs," so now you are misrepresenting it. The truth is that the report is the report of 11 of the 18 members -- a 60+% majority. It may not have reached the 14 votes necessary to have Reid and Pelosi agree to bring it to the floor for an up or down vote. But to say "there was no Bowles-Simpson Commission report" is simply false. Plus, what is to say that a majority report can't be an "official" report. It's official, it just didn't reach the number of votes necessary to go before the President and the Congress.

But even if you want to say that the report is not an "official" report from the commission -- so what? That doesn't somehow nullify its existence. Is it crazy to believe that a report which received a 60+% majority from a blue ribbon commission is important to the public discourse whether or not it reached the ridiculous 14/18 votes required for it to be brought to the floor? And is it so crazy to then attribute that report to the commission that voted on it with a majority?

I think you're reaching.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.