A Surprising New Ally of Fiscal Reform

Over the weekend, the Huffington Post ran an extraordinary item that could be a game changer if Washington ever gets its act together to even discuss serious fiscal reform.

The news site reported that former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—yes, Nancy Pelosi—has said she’d be “willing to accept draconian cuts as part of a [future] debt-ceiling deal,” much to the chagrin of liberals who fret “that their most powerful and passionate defender may be buckling on the issue.”

As Speaker and minority leader, Pelosi was the Democrats’ most powerful protector of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, entitlement programs that will cost future generations tens of trillions of dollars.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco in 2011. Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Yet now It looks like the lady may be turning:

During a recent press conference, and again during an interview with Charlie Rose, the California congresswoman said that she would support…the Simpson-Bowles plan, a budget proposal that was created by the co-chairs of a fiscal commission set up by President Obama (dubbed the “Catfood Commission” by progressives).

At the end of March, a version of the Simpson-Bowles plan was given a vote on the House floor. It was annihilated, 382-38, with Pelosi and most Democrats voting against it.

But Pelosi, the day after the vote, said that she could still support the plan if it stuck more closely to the original version put out by Simpson and Bowles.

Here’s the rub. Though touted for its bipartisan approach to the nation’s fiscal problems, Simpson-Bowles originally fell three short of the 14 votes needed to formally endorse the proposals and bring them to a vote in Congress. Four Democrats and three Republicans voted against it. And this was in 2010, before the Tea Party took over the House of Representatives.

The Tea Party could be a real problem, because they vow never to support any revenue increases as part of a plan to get our fiscal house in order. So did all the Republican presidential candidates in a notorious debate last year.

Norman  Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution wrote a provocative piece in the Washington  Post this weekend that spelled out how sharply Washington is divided, and they laid it at the feet of Republicans:

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

Over the top? Probably. But when Nancy Pelosi, the scourge of conservatives, now says she’s ready to give in on a core Democratic belief, it’s time for Republicans to take a big step, too. Then we’ll see who’s really serious and who’s just bluffing.

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