IF THEY CAN’T BEAT ‘EM, JOIN ‘EM…. I tend to think these deficit commissions and panels are asking the wrong question at the wrong time — when it comes to the economy, the focus should be on creating jobs and boosting growth, not tackling the deficit.

I suspect most center-left observers agree with this, but the larger discussion appears to have slipped away. The establishment wants this to be a top priority, so it is. The left has a choice: keep trying to move the conversation away from deficit reduction, or move the conversation about deficit reduction in a more constructive direction.

This week, Demos, the Economic Policy Institute, and the Century Foundation, followed by the Citizens’ Commission on Jobs, Deficits and America’s Economic Future, will pursue the latter.

As President Obama’s fiscal commission faces a deadline this week for agreement on a plan to shrink the mounting national debt, liberal organizations will unveil debt-reduction proposals of their own in the next two days, seeking to sway the debate in favor of fewer reductions in domestic spending, more cuts in the military and higher taxes for the wealthy.

The proposals from two sets of liberal advocacy groups highlight the deep ideological divides surrounding efforts to deal with the nation’s budgetary imbalances, even as Mr. Obama’s bipartisan commission works to finalize its recommendations by Wednesday — and struggles for a formula that would get the backing of at least 14 of its 18 members, the threshold for sending its proposal to Congress for a vote.

The liberal approaches have quite a few things going for them. They’re fiscally responsible and have a realistic chance of achieving their goal, and just as importantly, they do so in a progressive way — protecting Social Security and raising taxes primarily on the very wealthy.

Paul Krugman added, “I’ll need to work through the proposal, but one thing it clearly does is to explode the myth that there is no alternative to the Bowles-Simpson-type regressive proposal. A lot of inside-the-Beltway types have been trying to sell the notion that a severely weakened social safety net is the only possibility; it isn’t. And it’s definitely worth noting that even with the revenue measures in the progressive plan, the US would have lower overall taxation than almost any other advanced country.”

The larger benefit continues to be the ability to compare competing options. If deficit reduction is the goal — it shouldn’t be, necessarily, but if it is — there are different avenues to the same destination. These liberal coalitions are offering a credible direction, which should stack up quite favorably against its more conservative competitors.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.