Maya MacGuineas: Good Deeds Punished as Crossroads Dings Dems on Debt Plan

Maya MacGuineas, President of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, wrote a commentary that appeared in the Wall Street Journal Washington Wire. It is reposted here.

Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS has launched a series of political attack ads (see one here) going after Democrats for supporting Simpson-Bowles—the bipartisan plan to control the federal debt.

Now no one assumes political ads will be deep or nuanced policy discussions. But even with the low expectations, it is striking that Mr. Rove has chosen to go after Democrats not for ignoring runaway entitlement spending and mounting debt, or pretending we can fix the problems by taxing millionaires and corporate jets, but for being open to real entitlement reforms.

It is undeniable that we have to reform and strengthen Social Security and Medicare. Typically, Republicans are better about acknowledging this reality (while maintaining their blind spot about the need for revenues).

The whole idea behind Simpson-Bowles was that everyone would give a little. Republicans agree to raise some revenue from tax reform and control defense spending, while Democrats agree to cut spending and reform entitlement programs.

Those Democrats who supported the entitlement reforms in Simpson-Bowles took plenty of flak from their left flank, but it’s so much more depressing to see them being criticized on this particular topic from the right.

The specific policies being attacked would raise the Social Security retirement age by two years over the next 60 years, modernize Medicare’s cost-sharing rules, and replace the mortgage deduction with a flat credit that would be available to everyone and do more to help middle-class families.

It was these types of reforms as part of a comprehensive plan that won Simpson-Bowles broad-based support liberal Democrats like Sen. Dick Durbin to Republicans like Sen. Tom Coburn and leading Republican advisers from Glenn Hubbard to Greg Mankiw to James Baker. Oh, and also from Karl Rove, who had plenty of nice things to say about the plan in the past. (See here and here.)

Similar reforms are also part of Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, which passed the House with the support of 219 of the chamber’s 233 Republicans, and the tax reform bill put forward by Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp.

The Crossroads ads aren’t just hypocritical; they will cause real damage. These ads send a clear message to those Democrats willing to do the right thing and consider bipartisan solutions to fix our entitlement programs: Don’t. If you do, those efforts will be used against you to score cheap political points. And by the way, this will also be used by Democrats who never wanted to address entitlements in the first place as an excuse to take a hard line against these needed changes.

Democrats have a terrible record of demagoguing  entitlement reform. The last thing we need when a number of them are willing to start reaching across the aisle on this is for Republicans to jump on the entitlement demagoguery bandwagon.

If Republicans gain control of the Senate they will have to govern. Ads like this will make it extraordinarily difficult for them to support responsible budget policies let alone garner Democratic support.  Of course Republicans want to win the election, but what’s the use of winning if you can’t pursue your agenda?

Frankly, there are plenty of criticisms of Democratic candidates that Crossroads could make that would be consistent with conservative principles and lead to better policies. This is the opposite. Crossroads should take down these ads.

"My Views" are works published by members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the committee.