The principle here is the same as that of the bipartisan 1986 tax law, that cut numerous preferences and lowered the rates, as well. It was hammered out in tough and protracted bargaining by House Democrat Dan Rostenkowski, Republican Sen. Bob Packwood and Treasury Secretary James Baker.
Leading Republicans' responses to these proposals was at least somewhat positive -- in vivid contrast to Pelosi. In at least some conservative circles, eliminating "tax expenditures" is not seen as a verboten tax increase.
It's not clear that the lead players will step up to the plate. Incoming House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp does not have the experience that Rostenkowski brought to the 1986 negotiations. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus may not have as flexible a Republican ranking member if, as expected, Charles Grassley leaves that position and it is taken over by Orrin Hatch.
Hatch, whose seat is up in 2012, watched as his Utah colleague Bob Bennett was denied renomination this year by the Republican state convention. He may be wary that the same thing could happen to him.
Nor is it clear that Barack Obama is interested. Voters this year were evidently not pleased with the big government policies that have raised federal spending from 21 percent to 25 percent of GDP. But many Democratic politicians would like to see government stay at that level indefinitely. Their ranks may include the presidential nominee who told Joe the Plumber that he wanted to "spread the wealth around."
Still, Bowles-Simpson and Rivlin-Domenici have done the public a service by showing how the current fiscal and long-term entitlement crises can actually be addressed. They have shown that it is hard -- voters can't get everything they want -- but that's not impossible.