The all-encompassing approach [of the Simpson-Bowles plan] gives citizens the chance for all of us to contribute to fixing a problem that we caused ourselves. We're not going to create the problem and give it to our children. We're going to take responsibility.
This isn't symbolic patriotism like putting up a flag on the Fourth of July. This is real patriotism, where everyone sacrifices for the good of the country, for our future. We can use this crisis as an opportunity to unify our nation once again [Jon Hunter, "Deficit Panel Recommendations Could Actually Unify Americans," Madison Daily Leader, 2010.11.15].
Hunter may be right about the unifying effects of shared austerity. Calling for every American to pay more taxes and accept fewer services from Uncle Sam could give Americans a sense of common purpose. Involving everyone could make the plan itself work better, like when an overweight family diets together, or when a group of friends all choose to quit smoking together.
Simpson and Bowles propose a national austerity plan that would take 27 years just to balance the annual budget; that's a long -term campaign that could keep our national attention focused on a goal rather than on partisan politics for several election cycles. It challenges the Tea Party re-enacters to prove that they aren't just convulsing against President Barack Obama but really can live up to their rhetoric about our grandkids. If they can, we liberals might be able to find common cause with them, pay more taxes, accept cuts to programs we love, and work toward fiscal sanity.
As Bob the Builder says, Can we do it?
If we can't unite around a plan, perhaps we can at east unite around a game. Neighbor John Nelson points me toward the New York Times' interactive checklist that lets each of us take a swing at reducing the deficit. I take a swing and prove that Simpson and Bowles are pikers: instead of waiting until 2037 to balance the budget, I run a $330-billion surplus by 2015. 50% spending cuts, 50% tax increases... with a $1.1-trillion surplus by 2030, I probably wipe out the federal debt by 2030. (Dang: I didn't even cut space-based missile defense.)
Robert Reich will probably jump in and say I also crash the American economy. Oops. Try your hand, and submit your results below!