Chris Hildebrand contributed to this post.
Amidst rising vitriol and a wave of partisan mud-slinging, the debate surrounding the deficit is, at its core, a controversy about the size and scope of government. Given our massive debt, Democrats and Republicans are battling to preserve their own separate visions of how large (or small) the American government and our social safety net should be by focusing on how the nation spends its money. In light of the sizable political differences between the two parties, one might assume that what little common ground exists is too scarred and pocketed from previous failed attempts at bipartisan compromise to bear further fruit.
The gap between Republicans and Democrats, however, isn’t as wide as some believe it to be. At the Peterson Foundation’s 2011 Fiscal Summit last week, three think tanks that represent a broad swath of the political spectrum ? the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on the right, BPC in the middle, and the Center for American Progress (CAP) on the left ? all proposed solutions to the debt crisis that would restrain federal government spending to around 23% of GDP in 2035.
Predictably, each of the three plans takes a significantly different approach to achieve that level of spending. On Medicare, for example, the BPC proposal takes a two-pronged approach: providing the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) with the power to recommend changes to Medicare’s benefit structure, and also converting the entitlement to a premium support model with traditional Medicare as the default option. CAP and AEI each utilize only one of these two components (CAP the former and AEI the latter) in their deficit reduction proposals.
Yet, these three fundamentally and ideologically different approaches to solving our debt problem all end up generating a government of almost exactly the same size 25 years down the road.