Re-chewing the Simpson-Bowles Cud

 Republican Cow Chewing a Simpson-Bowles Cud

ru·mi·nate   verb     \ˈrü-mə-ˌnāt\      Definitions:

1.  To consider something deeply and carefully.

2.  To re-chew partially digested food.

 (photo credit)

There isn’t a more perfect word than ruminate for what all of us ought to be doing this month regarding the looming “Fiscal Cliff.”  Per the first definition of the word, there’s sure plenty to think deeply about.

From a pure economics perspective, what is the most effective thing to do?  Raise tax rates?  (On who?)  Cut spending?  (On what?)  Do both?  (In what proportion?)  Will higher tax rates really gather more tax revenues, or will taxpayers change their financial behaviors?

Hayekians (followers of economist Friedrich A. Hayek, 1899-1992) are pragmatic realists who subscribe to a constrained view of limited government intervention into the economy.  (Suggested reading

Keynesians (followers of economist John M. Keynes, 1883-1946) are idealistic statists who subscribe to an unconstrained view of expansive government manipulation of the economy.  (Suggested reading

Economics aside, the political strategy questions seem endless:

  • Did the 2012 election give either party a mandate for a course of action?
  • Why did American voters essentially preserve the status quo in the Federal control of power?
  • Are the battle lines of partisan politicians artificially exaggerated by a dysfunctional political process, or are they simply a reflection of a deeply divided American population?
  • Is divided government a blessing or a curse?
  • Are both sides following courses of action based on their honest notion of “doing the right thing”, or based upon a motivation to avoid getting blamed for the (likely) inevitable economic meltdown?
  • How did Republicans get themselves in a position where, if no further legislation is passed this month, the default outcome in 2013 and beyond will be so undesirable to their constituents?

Each of these questions are great fodder for entire articles.  I invite your comments on them.  Pick a question, and give your view….

But let’s move on to the second definition of ruminate:  “To re-chew partially digested food.”

Remember the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform?  Here’s a quote from a short summary of the Commission and the Plan:

“In February of 2010, President Obama issued an executive order creating a commission to study the debt crisis in the US and offer a proposal to solve the problem. The committee formed from that order had 18 members, some were appointed by the President, and some were selected from Congress. The President appointed two Republicans and five Democrats. Among those people were two co-chairs: former Senator Alan Simpson and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles….

Three Republican Senators were chosen along with three Democrats. The same numbers were chosen from the House. The committee divided itself up into three working groups with each member assigned to two groups. These groups included one to study tax reform, one to study discretionary spending, and one to study mandatory spending.

On November 1, 2010 the committee submitted its final report making recommendations on discretionary spending, tax reform, health care savings, social security, and other mandatory programs. The plan needed a super-majority to be officially supported by the committee, but on December 3, 2010 it received only 11 of the 14 votes needed.”

Three Republicans — Paul Ryan (WI), Jeb Hensarling (TX), and Dave Camp (MI) — voted against it because it sought to raise tax rates during a recession and didn’t do much to curb health-care spending.

Now there are many conservative strategists and pundits who feel that re-chewing the Simpson-Bowles cud is the best course of action.  My favorite article along these lines is Learning to Love Simpson-Bowles from 26 Nov 2012 by Randall Hoven at

Even if you don’t click on any other links in this article, you absolutely must read Mr. Hoven’s article.  He lays out the Republicans’ options, and maps the hypothetical outcomes of each option.  He concludes the best conservative approach that’s realistically available is for Republican legislators to return to the Simpson-Bowles Plan and have Ryan, Hensarling, and Camp endorse it.  This puts the Democrats in a position where they must either reject that ready-to-go plan and propose their own plan (and clearly own the blame for the consequences), or accept the Simpson-Bowles Plan as-is, which is a better course for the economy than the default Fiscal Cliff.

Here is Mr. Hoven’s conclusion:

“There is no way we can get what we want. But the worst of both worlds is to get bad policy and get blamed for it. The beauty of Simpson-Bowles at this point is that it probably won’t pass in any case, but even the Keystone Republicans should be able to play it in the media in a way that puts the blame on Democrats if they kill it.

And if worst comes to worst, it might actually pass. But if it does, it would mean smaller government than the other feasible alternatives. And isn’t that what we’re about? Don’t worry about higher [tax rates]; the government will never collect them.”

And here’s my own final idea to ruminate on:

If any of your family, friends, or coworkers are named Cliff, how in the world can you pass up the chance to nickname them “Fiscal” this month?


About Necessary and Proper

Jeff believes in the Individual's ability to excel when liberty and freedom of choice are protected. Also believes in the Community's ability to take care of the vast majority of its own issues and needs when the federal government leaves the Community's resources and sphere of control alone. State and local choice produce better results than centralized federal control.
This entry was posted in Our Political Economy, Politics in Practice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Re-chewing the Simpson-Bowles Cud

  1. Some good points and some good questions.

    I’ll ask another question which relates to several of the questions above:

    When did the Congressmen and Senators become elected officials of the NATIONAL government rather then the FEDERAL government?

    In other words, each elected official is elected to represent his or her constituency….there should be no “mandate” involved as far as they are concerned other than the one from their constituents. Even if only one member of the House, for example, was elected on the promise to do x, y, or z then that member should vote accordingly, regardless of how the other 434 members vote.

    Just a thought.


    • cc,

      Thanks for the interesting bonus thought to chew on.

      I guess I’m not sure why you phrased your question as you did. In party politics, it’s not a national government that the elected congressmen/women caucus with when they get to Washington DC — it’s an ideological coalition, otherwise known as a political party. There’s strength in numbers…so they form political alliances. This is a natural political strategy to utilize in a Constitutional Republican form of government. So the literal answer to your quesion “When did the Congressmen and Senators become elected officials of the NATIONAL government [party]…?” is the year 1796 when Alexander Hamilton formed the Federalist Party and Thomas Jefferson formed the Democrat-Republican (Anti-Federalist) Party. There were only 8 years (1788-1796) where we had so-called “non-partisan” government.

      Your scenario would have 435 free agents in the House, each representing his/her district’s approx 725,000 citizens, and maneuvering against the other 434 House members. That seems a lot like a football game with 22 guys on the field, each being a 1-man team trying to score by carrying the ball across one of 22 different goal lines, fighting against 21 other guys. The 21 guys on “defense” would cooperate to stop the ball carrier, but the poor ball carrier would have no blockers and nobody to lateral the ball to. Blood and crushed bones would be the only outcome.

      You said “Even if only one member of the House, for example, was elected on the promise to do x, y, or z then that member should vote accordingly….”

      But unlike us regular citizens that just vote on stuff, legislators first have to craft the language of the stuff they then vote on. Without coalitions and “you co-sponsor my bill, and I’ll co-sponsor yours” agreements, how would legislation ever get written coherently, and with any chance of getting passed?

      If your question stems from an overall frustration about the current gridlock of divided government, or how slowly the orthodox “old-school” Republican Party leaders are coming around to understanding the new U.S. demographics, I can certainly sympathize. But as I concluded after reasoning my way through a 3-part article called Dysfunctional Federal Government – Or Is It?, perhaps our government is gridlocked because America itself is gridlocked. Perhaps this isn’t SUPPOSED to be easy to resolve.

      – Jeff


      • Hi, wanted to make sure I had enough time to respond to your questions and comments.

        Me…”When did the Congressmen and Senators become elected officials of the NATIONAL government rather then the FEDERAL government?”

        You…”I guess I’m not sure why you phrased your question as you did. In party politics, it’s not a national government that the elected congressmen/women caucus with when they get to Washington DC — it’s an ideological coalition, otherwise known as a political party.”

        Sure, but that really is irrelevant and yet it seems that may be my fault because it seems the way I phrased my question resulted in the intent of my question being unclear.

        It is true that I ended up responding to some of the hypothetical questions you asked rather than the “real” topic, so that may be part of the problem, but now that I made the mess I guess the best thing to do is try and help clean it up.

        I mean this in the most inoffensive way possible, but after writing a draft response, let me suggest we begin at the beginning which means forget what you just said and ask yourself one simple question…

        Who elects the Congressperson and who is that Congressperson supposed to represent?

        Assuming your answer to both questions is the same: the people of his or her district, we are on the same page.

        Now, if this is so, if his/her constituents are completely against policy “A”, while the rest of the country is for that same policy, on what basis are you suggesting that there is a mandate in evidence which requires he/she support this “mandate” and thus vote against the expressed will of his/her constituents?


        • cc,

          Thanks for clarifying. My misunderstanding stemmed from your context of the word “mandate” compared to mine. I used it in the popular political sense, in which an overwhelming victory margin in an election is often used by the winning party to justify bullying the losing party into dropping all subsequent opposition to the legislative goals of the winners. (i.e. “The people have overwhelmingly spoken. We won, and we wield a clear mandate from the people. Now you losers must shut up and get out of the way.”)

          As I now believe I understand, your context of the word “mandate” is limited in this discussion to the relationship between the approx 725,000 constituents of a Congressional District and their elected representative. Perhaps the word “obligation” would be better for this context. Anyway….

          Before I start my response, let me say that this is very likely to be something that you and I just disagree about, and that’s fine. The strict, detailed rules of the logistics of legislative representation are not spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, so there is no absolute right or wrong in this matter. I can respect and understand your views, and I hope you can respect and understand mine.

          Generally speaking, I feel comfortable following what Edmund Burke (1729-1797, political theorist & member of British House of Commons from 1765-1780) called the “trustee model of representation.” I will explain why in a moment. First, here’s how Burke described it.

          From Burke’s Speech to the Electors of Bristol on Nov 3, 1774, here’s one paragraph, but the whole speech is worth reading, and is only 6 paragraphs:

          “Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

          You might also find Chapter 12 of John Stuart Mill’s Representative Government (written in 1861) interesting, as he reaches the same conclusion as Burke.

          You are implying that you favor what is called the “delegate model of representation,” in which a representative pledges to vote in strict accordance with the majority position of his/her constituents on each issue. Of course, this approach requires a high level of political interest and factual knowledge among a super-majority of the constituents, and also requires efficient lines of communication between the constituents and the representative. In a geographically large nation, with almost ¾ of a million constituents in each district, this seems impractical to me as a 100%-followed method.

          Now here’s why I am comfortable electing a “trustee” as my legislative representative in Washington D.C.: I have always had the distinct pleasure of living in strongly conservative congressional districts. This year, my county voted 72.5% for Romney. In 2008, we voted 69.0% for McCain. I monitor my district representative’s votes, and I’m quite pleased. I attend his frequent town hall meetings in my area, especially when a big vote is coming up. Mine is a classic case of “I have a low regard for Congress in general, but I’m VERY happy with my particular representative.”

          Now I’ll start reading your mind again: ObamaCare is probably the worst recent example of widespread congressional voting that in many districts wasn’t in accordance with the constituents’ majority wishes. I haven’t researched it rigorously, but in 2010 I heard of many cases of relatively neutral districts that happened to have Democrat representatives that voted for Obamacare in spite of clear majority opposition among that district’s constituents. So let’s use ObamaCare as a flaming example of the downside of “trustee representation,” and consider whether delegate representation would have helped achieve a different outcome.

          cc, based on emails we’ve exchanged in the past, I recall that you’re from a state with two Democrat senators, but (like me) you are fortunate to live in a district with a Republican representative. I confirmed that each of your congressional reps voted along predictable party lines on ObamaCare. Also I just looked up how your county voted in the last 2 presidential elections: 60% for McCain and 63% for Romney. Seems like we’re pretty-much in the same boat.

          But perhaps you’re thinking a little broader than I am. Perhaps you’ve given more thought beyond your own district about what’s bugging the electorate about the political process. However, be careful what you wish for. In surfing the Google results for “trustee vs delegate representation”, I find just as many liberal opinions demanding more “delegate” control over their representatives as I find conservatives demanding the same thing. That raises a danger flag in my head. Also, keep in mind that you and I are hyper-political junkies. We’re nowhere near the norm. I can see lots of pitfalls in trying to implement a rigorous delegate relationship between constituents and representatives.

          – Jeff


Chime in! Leave Jeff a comment...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s