the national interest

David Brooks Wants Bowles-Simpson for Everything

Co-chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, former Sen. Alan Simpson, (R-WY)(R), and Erskine Bowles (L)
The high point of the Obama presidency. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In 2010, a bipartisan commission led by plainspoken Republican Alan Simpson and tough-minded Democrat Erskine Bowles produced a budget plan that would have solved all of America’s problems. In his column today, David Brooks urges President Obama to build on that success by creating “a group of Simpson-Bowles-type commissions — with legislators, mayors, governors and others brought together to offer concrete proposals on mobility issues from the beginning to the end of the life span.”

Wait, what’s that, you say? Bowles-Simpson was not a major success? Oh, you’re very wrong.

Just because it failed to result in the legislative compromise it was tasked to create — and arguably even failed to produce an actual, concrete proposal — it did succeed in creating an aspirational model for centrist pundits to tout. Brooks alone has cited Bowles and Simpson in nearly two dozen columns.

If you define the goal of Bowles and Simpson as creating policies outside the political process that can be held up by centrists as emblematic of the failure of both parties in equal measure, then the Bowles-Simpson commission succeeded brilliantly. Why not extend the power of the Bowles-Simpson brand beyond mere deficit scolding to other policy areas? What about a Bowles-Simpson commission for everyday life decisions? The husband says we should spend $5000 to repair our car, the wife says we can’t afford it. Then they hire a Bowles-Simpson commission to tell them they should reject that debate and instead ride around on an invisible unicorn.