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Should Erskine Bowles Be Treasury Secretary? I Say No

Ezra Klein today has a beat sweetener proposing Erskine Bowles for Treasury Secretary.

I don't think he would be a good Treasury Secretary, because I think he failed catastrophically as co-chair of the deficit-reduction commission.

Bowles as co-chair of the deficit-reduction commission had two missions:

  1. His primary mission was to corral Republican legislative support for a commission proposal that could serve as a long-run budget-balancing taxes-and-entitlement-reform bipartisan plan.

  2. Failing that, his secondary mission to collect the Democratic members of the commission and rally them behind a technocratically-serious, fair, and Democratic proposal that the President could then use to negotiate a long-run budget-balancing taxes-and-entitlement-reform bipartisan plan.

Bowles failed on both of these counts. Instead, he put out a co-chairmen's mark with budget-arsonist-in-a-fire-chief's-hat Alan Simpson that gave away the store. Since then he has been falsely touting the co-chairmen's mark as the commission's proposal, and so depriving Obama of budget negotiating room--for whatever Obama might want to trade to Republicans for concessions has already been given away by "the report of the President's own deficit-reduction commission".

My judgment isn't a left-wing judgment: it is a technocratic-political judgment. I speak as a card-carrying neoliberal long-run budget-balancer. I say that Erskine Bowles had as audition for the job as Treasury Secretary and flunked it: he got taken to the cleaners by those budget arsonists Alan Simpson and Paul Ryan. If he were to behave as Treasury Secretary as he did as deficit reduction commission co-chair, he would be a failure: he showed no signs that he has the mojo for the job.