The role the Simpson-Bowles plan played in the debate was darkly hilarious. First, Romney said:
“What I do is I bring down the tax rates, lower deductions and exemptions, the same idea behind Bowles-Simpson, by the way.”
That’s just flatly untrue. The Simpson-Bowles plan cut tax rates and lowered deductions and exemptions as a way to generate $2 trillion in new revenue. Romney doesn’t generate any new revenue. Erskine Bowles, co-chair of the commission, went so far as to write an op-ed criticizing Romney for refusing to raise taxes.
Then there was this exchange:
Moderator Jim Lehrer: “Governor, what about Simpson-Bowles? Do you support Simpson-Bowles?”
Romney: “Simpson-Bowles, the president should have grabbed that.”
Lehrer: “No, I mean, do you support Simpson-Bowles?”
Romney: “I have my own plan. It’s not the same as Simpson- Bowles. But in my view, the president should have grabbed it. If you wanted to make some adjustments to it, take it, go to Congress, fight for it.”
So Romney doesn’t support Simpson-Bowles, but he’s nevertheless able to criticize the president for not grabbing onto it tightly enough. Remember, by the way, that the White House formed the commission through an executive order after Senate Republicans filibustered the bill. I think it’s fair to say that that decision was, in retrospect, a disaster for the administration.
THIS DEBATE WAS REALLY BORING
A quick interlude to note that I am, at the moment, incredibly bored. And I like this stuff. A debate about tax policy should be right up my alley. But Obama and Romney cover the same ground again and again and again. They don’t explain themselves clearly or draw sharp contrasts. Obama, in particular, is terrible at bringing budget details down to earth. The cruel trade-offs required by the approximately $15 trillion or so in cuts and tax changes that Romney envisions are implied, rather than explained. This exercise has me more convinced than ever that these debates are won on style, as it’s almost impossible to follow the substance, even when you’re reading it, and even when you already know the underlying arguments and details.