The Bowles-Simpson proposals are a great public service, I think, even though the form and timing of the announcement were disconcerting. The full deficit commission is due to report soon. It would have been better to announce a single plan then, supported by an impressive majority of the members; doubtless the two co-chairmen would have preferred that too. Presumably, with no such consensus emerging, they decided to rush a joint proposal out rather than have it die in private talks without seeing light of day. Trouble is, the other members might see this pre-emption as a license for them to go their own way too. This would defeat the main purpose of forming the commission in the first place: bridging political differences. If we end up with a mess of competing proposals, none commanding cross-party support, we will be back where we started.
The proposals are not a "blueprint". They include sets of options, spelt out in some cases with strange precision ("reduce copying use by putting the default option on copiers to double-sided"). At the same time, no rationale is offered for basic stipulations, such as the goal of holding public spending at no more than 21 per cent of GDP. Yet the chairmen's overall deficit-reduction strategy must be right. Do a lot of comparatively gentle things. The more you put on the table, the less drastic you have to be in any particular area. Bowles and Simpson put almost everything on the table--and force you to think about the fiscal consequences of sparing your favorite items. This is how the discussion must be framed.