The Commission That Won't Go Away

Why Bowles-Simpson won't vanish into the sunset.

There have been thousands of U.S. presidential commissions. Some, such as the Warren Commission on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, had a huge impact.

Most are ignored and forgotten.

The Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction commission, which I discuss in my column this week, is a hybrid; it has had minimal impact, but its leaders won't go away.

They are Erskine Bowles, the former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming. The bipartisan panel of political, corporate and labor heavyweights issued its report in December 2011. Eleven of the 18 members supported a plan to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over nine years. This was short of the 14 votes necessary to force congressional action.

Yet rather than disappearing, the 67 year-old Bowles and the 81 year-old Simpson, have done a dog and pony show traveling around the country, giving speeches, sometimes for money, preaching the gospel of fiscal discipline. They are regulars on television interview shows.

The commission has morphed into other forums, Fix the Debt and the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. They include leading Republican and Democratic officeholders and business leaders.

Spearheading much of this is Maya MacGuineas, a 43 year-old policy wonk and prolific writer with close connections to prominent Democrats as well as Republicans.

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