So it was alarming at last week's presidential debate to see both President Obama and Mitt Romney respond positively when asked about "Simpson-Bowles," a scheme to further redistribute income upward.
Google announced that "Simpson Bowles" was the most searched-for term during the debate. So here's a brief definition: "Simpson-Bowles" is shorthand for a draft memorandum written by former Sen. Alan Simpson, a Republican, and Democratic economic adviser Erskine Bowles, the co-chairmen of a deficit-reduction commission appointed by Obama in 2010. Although some politicians and even reporters call that memo a "report of the commission," the proposals didn't get the required consensus to pass.
When the co-chairmen unveiled their ideas, some of D.C.'s "very serious people" - the kind of folks who will never have to rely on Social Security to live decently - hailed it as a "balanced approach." But others, like then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, called the burden it would have placed on low-income Americans "simply unacceptable."
They pointed to Simpson and Bowles' call for a reduction in Social Security benefits, even though Social Security is a pay-as-you-go insurance program that by law cannot add to the deficit. A proposed cost-of-living adjustment sounds benign but would represent 3 percent less for seniors to live on. The normal retirement age would be raised gradually to 69, even though low-income Americans' life expectancy isn't increasing. Bowles and Simpson also wanted to raise the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 67.
On this issue, there is a massive disconnect between the denizens of the world "inside the beltway" and the majority of ordinary Americans. In a Washington Post poll last summer, 82 percent of respondents said they were against cutting Social Security benefits to reduce the deficit, and 77 percent were opposed to Medicare cuts.
Yet, over the past few years, we have seen Obama - and even progressive Democrats like Pelosi - seeming to soften their opposition to these notions, all in the service of a bipartisan "Grand Bargain" of cuts and revenue that is supposed to solve our fiscal problems. It was bad policy in 2010 - and now.
In the debate, Romney said Obama "should have grabbed" Simpson-Bowles, and the president responded that he has made "adjustments" to it and is "putting it before Congress." The next day, Politico.com announced, "Simpson-Bowles Make Their Comeback." But it's a comeback the majority of Americans is rooting against.