Simpson-Bowles also created a framework for bipartisan work, says Brookings
The leadership and legislative lessons from the Simpson-Bowles Comission are just as important as the commission's recommendations for reducing the debt and deficit because they provide a glimpse into compromise creation despite the current polarized atmosphere, says the Governance Studies program at the Brookings Institution.
The key budget lesson, according to the report (.pdf) is that not only are easy budget fixes a myth, but that legislators need to be shown the numbers. It says that those involved in the talks initially looked to future economic growth as the way to solve revenue shortfalls that only cutting waste and fraud would leave.
"The truth is called math, maybe the dirtiest four-letter word in the alphabet," it quotes Erskine Bowles as saying.
The report also says being honest about the numbers involved led to greater acceptance of recommendations. The more comprehensive the plan became, the more people came onboard because they felt it was validly tackling the problem, says the report, "It was easier to get legislators to compromise if they thought they were reaching an important agreement."
Another key to its recommendation was the Becerra Rule, named in honor of commission member Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.). Under the rule, members agreed that the only way to take something completely off the table was to replace it with a comparable recommendation. If a member wanted to take off certain defense cuts or Social Security reform, they had to find a new policy reform that would bring in the same amount of money.
One of the more important findings, which may serve current fiscal debates, was the ability to meet behind closed doors, the Brookings report says. The report found that this led to a reduced dependence on talking points and increased members "actually listening to what the other side had to say."
- download the full Brookings report (.pdf)