Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Obama's deficit plan closer to what CEOs favor

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
updated 10:09 AM EDT, Sun October 28, 2012
John Avlon says Mitt Romney, pictured at a September rally, talks about cutting the U.S. debt, but President Obama's plan is closer to what needs to be done.
John Avlon says Mitt Romney, pictured at a September rally, talks about cutting the U.S. debt, but President Obama's plan is closer to what needs to be done.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Avlon: 80 U.S. CEOs signed letter seeking balanced, partisan plan to tame debt
  • He says Mitt Romney has refused to consider a plan that includes revenue increases
  • Avlon says the $16 trillion debt is too big to be tackled through spending cuts alone
  • He says CEOs want something like Bowles-Simpson plan, and Obama is closer to it

Editor's note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." He is a regular contributor to "Erin Burnett OutFront" and is a member of the OutFront Political Strike Team. For more political analysis, tune in to "Erin Burnett OutFront" at 7 ET weeknights.

(CNN) -- The deficit and debt are major concerns for swing voters -- and President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have very different visions of how to deal with it.

That's why it was significant to see 80 CEOs of major American companies sign a letter this past week committing to press for a balanced bipartisan plan to reduce the deficit and debt no matter which candidate is elected president on November 6.

The words "balanced" and "bipartisan" are key here -- because the CEOs understand that this problem is too big to be solved by tax hikes or spending cuts alone. We can't simply tax or cut our way out of this problem.

John Avlon
John Avlon

Instead, the CEOs backed the outlines of the Bowles-Simpson commission, which attracted bipartisan support with its plan to cut spending, rein in entitlements and increase tax revenue through lower rates while closing loopholes and deductions.

Their vision is also consistent with the plan proposed by the Gang of Six senators who came up with their own formula along the same broad outlines -- cut spending, bending the entitlement cost curve and raise tax revenue.

Conservative and liberal senators running the ideological spectrum from Tom Coburn to Dick Durbin have managed to agree on this outline, buoyed by the heroic efforts of centrists like Mark Warner and Lamar Alexander, in addition to the bipartisan duo of Bowles and Simpson themselves. These individuals worked with the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and their Fix the Debt project to corral the CEOs' support.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



The CEOs in question include prominent Romney donors like AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, whose company gave a $4 million donation to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's conservative 501-C6 organization, which has already put more than $15 million into this election.

What's surprising is that the CEOs' commitment to a balanced bipartisan plan puts them much closer to Obama's deficit reduction plan than to Mitt Romney's.

That's because it also dovetails with the outlines of the Grand Bargain negotiated by Obama and House Speaker John Boehner in the summer of 2011, only to have negotiations fall apart.

The human cost of austerity in Greece
How Sandy could impact the vote
Fact check: Tackling the deficit
Tackling U.S.'s runaway debt

Mitt Romney has repeatedly and specifically said that he will not consider any plan that raises any increased tax revenue to pay down the deficit and the debt. During the Republican primaries, he famously joined with his competitors in raising his hand to say that he would reject even a 10-to-1 deal splitting spending cuts with tax revenue increases. The Bowles-Simpson plan was based on an even less generous 3-to-1 split (though of course, still weighted decidedly in favor of spending cuts).

This is not an academic difference. It goes to the heart of what kind of deficit reduction can be realistically achieved as a matter of both politics and math. A plan that does not include any new revenues is not practical in terms of achieving the larger goal. "When you talk about a $16 trillion debt, I don't see how you can avoid addressing both sides" -- both spending cuts and revenue increases -- said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, sensibly. An imbalanced and ideologically pure solution without any revenue increases would be DOA with Democrats in the Senate.

We all know the special-interest stumbling blocks -- liberal activists don't want to see entitlement reforms. They bitterly attacked Bowles-Simpson as "the cat food commission." Conservative activists and special interests refuse to consider any new tax revenue. But the truth is that we need both to find a sustainable solution to our deficit and debt problem. To pretend otherwise is a hyper-partisan fantasy.

Romney's vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, is regarded as a serious deficit hawk, and he at least had the courage to put numbers to a budget plan he put forward in Congress. But his plan does not include any new tax revenue or cuts in defense spending -- which is why it does not balance the budget for three decades.

And when Paul Ryan served on the Bowles-Simpson Commission, he shamefully refused to support its recommendations, along with his fellow Republican congressmen Dave Camp and Jeb Hensarling.

Hensarling later went on to co-helm the failed super committee, which led to the $1.2 trillion in blunt sequestration cuts that now loom as part of the year-end "fiscal cliff."

And while we're analyzing deficit reduction plans, in addition to a 20% across the board additional tax cut, the Romney budget also calls for increasing military spending to 4% of GDP, translating to an additional $2 trillion in federal spending over 10 years, which would erase all the stated cuts he has so far put forward on his campaign website.

This aspect of Romney's plan is so politically driven and math-illiterate that Paul Ryan doesn't even like to acknowledge it on the campaign trail. Moreover, it's worth remembering that the politically convenient model of huge tax cuts and higher spending pursued by President George W. Bush and embraced by Republicans during his administration, turned Clinton-era surpluses into deficits.

There's no question that Obama deserves a lot of criticism for not backing the Bowles-Simpson plan. His proposals have not been submitted as specific legislation and he failed to lead on entitlement reform, despite saying he knows it needs to be done.

Congress has not passed a budget under his watch. Moreover, his attempts to boost the economy during the Great Recession with the stimulus package contributed to the growth of deficits and debt under his watch. That's why Romney clearly leads in the polls on this issue. But compared to European countries that opted for more severe austerity measures, America's economy is looking pretty good these days, featuring comparative stability, growth and reduced unemployment, no matter how slow.

Bottom line, the CEOs' responsible call for a balanced bipartisan plan to reduce the U.S. deficit and the debt does not remotely look like what Romney has proposed to do as president.

It does look a lot like the plans put forward by the Bowles-Simpson Commission, the Gang of Six, and outlines of the Grand Bargain, which Obama has said he would put forward again.

It may sound counterintuitive, but according to the outlines established by the CEOs, Obama's reelection would actually be better for achieving long-term deficit reduction -- because he is the only candidate who has put forward a balanced bipartisan plan.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT