If you are a liberal member of Congress, you are holding an arsenal of options when it comes to cutting the deficit.
By just following the law as it presently is written, trillions of dollars of deficit reduction will occur without any limiting action relative to any entitlements.
The combined effect of allowing the sequester to go forward and allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire looks reasonable and rational if you sit on the left.
The $1.2 trillion in sequestration cuts fall primarily on defense spending. Ending the Bush tax cuts raises between $2 trillion and $3 trillion more.
To put it another way, a liberal member of Congress holds a lot of good cards and can afford to “stand pat.”
The irony of the situation is that this approach totally avoids the causes of the massive explosion in the federal deficits and the intolerable debt being layered on our children.
Medicare and Medicaid are allowed to continue without any attempt to make them work better and be more cost effective, as are agriculture subsidies and student loans.
Tax reform is ignored, even though it might bring in more revenue and would certainly create a better atmosphere for competitiveness internationally and economic growth.
Rates are simply raised and the wealthy hire more accountants to avoid paying the higher rates.
Still, the left can claim it is raising takes on the rich.
A few days ago Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO, gave a speech which seemed to a be a gratuitous attack on the Simpson-Bowles Commission debt-reduction proposal.
He said, to paraphrase, that Simpson-Bowles would undermine entitlements that benefit seniors and unnecessarily reduce tax rates, especially on corporations and the wealthy.
It appeared to be a speech that came out of nowhere. It did not.
It was finally a fair and honest assessment from the left of why President Obama abandoned the efforts of his own commission. It also explained why the House Democratic leadership — with the notable exception of Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) — opposed any effort to give Simpson-Bowles traction.
Most Americans found the lack of support for Simpson-Bowles from the president and his followers to be confusing and opaque.
The feeling was especially acute among those who are concerned about the partisanship and failure of the federal government to step up and address the debt in a rational and orderly manner.
Simpson-Bowles was, and is, the only bipartisan, substantive vehicle that actually reduces the deficit and the debt and makes viable our tax code and programs like Social Security.
It is refreshing, therefore, to have someone close to the administration and the Democratic party leadership be open about why they oppose the commission’s findings.
This makes the choice for the American people, and those in Congress who wish to pursue constructive action on the debt, rather clear.
The position of the activist left is to abandon any sort of effective or bipartisan action on the drivers of the deficit — specifically entitlement spending and tax policy — in favor of across-the-board cuts that fall primarily on our soldiers and dramatically increase the burden of the already-dysfunctional and counterproductive tax code.
The other choice is to pursue a renewed effort based on a bipartisan and relatively-balanced approach, as set forth in Simpson-Bowles and expanded on by the various working groups in the Senate.
The American electorate is obviously out of sorts with the nonfunctioning, partisan atmosphere they see in Washington. It is difficult to believe voters are going to find the approach of chaotic cuts as the type of governing they want or expect.
Nor are they likely to endorse it when those cuts are coupled with tax increases based off a tax law that no one understands, and that will aggravate an already sluggish economy.
Another run at reaching a structured and thoughtful bipartisan plan is going to be far more attractive. It should not only reduce the debt, but also strengthen our competitiveness as a country along the lines of Simpson-Bowles.
This is a time when those who have been elected to govern have an opportunity to do just that.
They can stay in their corners and allow disorder to rein or they can move the nation away from the impending debt debacle and create an atmosphere of optimism by actually acting on substantive initiatives together.
If they choose the latter, they might even get a thank you and a vote thrown in from a nation that is searching for bold leadership.
Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Foreign Operations. He also is an international adviser to Goldman Sachs.