Former UNC system president Erskine Bowles attracted much national attention for the deficit-reduction group he co-chaired with former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson.
But most of that group’s recommendations have been ignored. A new TIME article tackles the argument that President Obama deserves blame for his lukewarm response to the Bowles-Simpson report.
Obama did quietly support the broad outlines of the plan, though he was at best publicly guarded with his words. “My goal here is to actually solve the problem,” Obama said at a February press conference, when asked why he did not embrace Simpson-Bowles. “It’s not to get a good headline on the first day.” Months later, he would put forward his own proposal–similar in structure, though smaller in size–first in private negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner and later in public in September. His hope was always to get a backroom bipartisan agreement–”Getting into that boat at the same time, so it doesn’t tip over,” he said. That never happened. Once again Obama found himself expressing surprise at the hard-line stances of Republicans, saying he had expected a greater willingness to compromise.
But when even some of your allies find your performance underwhelming, it may not matter who has history on their side. “I don’t think there is a sense in the Congress or the country that the President gave high priority and significant leadership to reducing the deficit,” says Alice Rivlin, the former top budget official for Clinton and a member of the commission. Perhaps Obama’s biggest mistake, she says, was failing to connect the concepts of short-term stimulus and long-term deficit reduction from the beginning of his presidency.