Commentary: Time for another look at Simpson-Bowles and shared sacrifice

Who woulda thunk it?

Pick 12 lawmakers, six from each party, who have declared compromise anathema, and they still can't come up with a plan to stem the nation's indebtedness. What a shock!

After hearing for weeks that failure by the super committee to come to agreement would trigger draconian cuts, including a half-trillion-dollar bite out of defense spending, Americans now are told Congress will find ways to avoid gutting the Pentagon.

In other words, when legislators promised to reduce the deficit at all costs, they did so with fingers crossed.

It's obvious that Republican members of the super committee didn't intend to budge from their no-tax stance. Memories of what happened to President George Bush the First after he reversed himself on his no-tax pledge were fresh in their minds. They would sooner see the economy go down in flames than agree to a deficit-reduction plan that might give President Barack Obama momentum heading into the 2012 elections.

Democrats aren't any holier. Unwilling to incur the wrath of labor, minorities and families dependent on Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, they weren't about to approve major cuts to "entitlement" programs.

This latest exercise in futility wouldn't be so infuriating if it weren't that a workable plan for keeping America from drowning in a sea of red ink already was on the shelf - the Simpson-Bowles plan.

Named after former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and investment banker Erskine Bowles, cochairmen of Obama's deficit reduction commission, the plan offers a realistic solution to the debt crisis. Among other things, it calls for tax increases on the wealthiest Americans, elimination of popular tax deductions, including home mortgage interest, cuts in defense spending, and reductions in the aforementioned entitlement programs.

Ironically, the reason congressmen declared the Simpson-Bowles plan dead on arrival is the same reason it should make sense to thinking people: It calls for shared sacrifice for the common good.

The country will get nowhere as long as politicians remain fixated on blame for our economic troubles. There's plenty to go around, but no amount of recrimination is going to bring the federal government nearer to getting a handle on debt.

The wealthiest of Americans surely can shoulder more of the burden, but making millionaires pay higher taxes won't solve the problem by itself. Even if every rich American were hauled into the street, hanged from a lamppost and his possessions distributed to the public, the resulting loot wouldn't balance the federal budget.

And despite protestations of the AARP, Americans of retirement age will have to help take up the slack. According to one recent estimate, people of retirement age or nearing retirement possess half of the investable income in this country. Not all of them are wealthy, of course, but a lot of them could afford to give up mortgage-interest deductions or receive less from Social Security and Medicare.

It's no one's fault that the baby boomers are reaching retirement at a time when unemployment remains stubbornly high. Even if that weren't so, for decades, we've been told that too few Americans will be in the work force to support boomers in their "golden years."

Health costs alone could bankrupt America. A recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution included a sobering statistic: Half of Americans who live to age 85 will suffer from Alzheimer's. According to the Congressional Budget Office, health care costs will rise from 6 to 9 percent of the gross domestic product by 2035.

Most, if not all, of the contenders for the Republican presidential nomination have vowed to undo what they call "Obamacare." Voters should demand that they explain how they intend to bring health care costs under control.

Estimates are that the cost of the war in Iraq alone is approaching $1 trillion. That war has been fought on credit. Fairness dictates that all Americans pony up for their share.

With the passing of the World War II generation, fewer and fewer Americans remember the time when they were asked to ration gasoline and sugar, recycle tin cans and plant Victory Gardens. That generation understood the need for shared sacrifice.

It's not an un-American concept.