Has Manchin read the Simpson/Bowles plan?

My concern about Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is not that he’s the Senate’s most conservative Democrat. Rather, my concern is that he just doesn’t seem to keep up on policy details.

Today, for example, the West Virginian urged President Obama to intervene in the debt-reduction talks. I’d remind Manchin that (a) Obama has already made overly-generous offers that Republicans have refused; (b) the president can’t force the GOP to negotiate; and (c) Republicans specifically asked the president from the outset not to intervene.

But that’s not all Manchin wants. In his letter to the White House and congressional leaders, the rookie senator also asked for a vote on a specific debt-reduction plan.

If the supercommittee fails, as expected, Manchin urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to schedule votes on the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission, which call for significant reforms to Medicare and Social Security.

“For the sake of our nation and our children, I urge you, as president and the leaders of each chamber of Congress, to offer any and all support so that the supercommittee … can work through any impasse in these final hours and come to an agreement that is [in] the best interests of our future,” Manchin wrote in a letter to Obama, Reid and Boehner. “Simply put, the supercommittee cannot fail.” […]

Manchin warned that failure could contribute to the potential for future credit rating downgrades and market volatility.

“If the supercommittee fails, I respectfully ask that you help us prove to the American people that we can still do our job at this critical juncture,” Manchin wrote. “I urge you to give the entire Congress a vote on the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson Fiscal Commission.”

Let’s remind Manchin of two things. First, he seems to be under the impression that debt-reduction is critically important, and that if the super-committee fails, the nation will face a fiscal crisis. That’s plainly not true. Even if one were to assume that the debt should be a top priority of federal policymakers — I would argue otherwise, but let’s play along for the sake of conversation — the failure of the super-committee simply clears the way for a different debt-reduction plan to advance. In a practical sense, this panel isn’t terribly relevant — President Obama and Congress already agreed to a $2.1 trillion in debt reduction that’s not at all dependent on the success of the Murray/Hensarling group.

Second, Manchin wants a vote on Simpson/Bowles, but has he read it? The senator may not realize, for example, that the Simpson/Bowles plan includes significant defense cuts, which Manchin says he opposes, and calls for tax increases, which the senator also says he does not want. Come to think of it, the same Simpson/Bowles plan features major changes to Social Security and Medicare, which probably wouldn’t go over well in West Virginia.

Let me put this another way: if Manchin succeeds and the Senate held a vote on the Simpson/Bowles plan, would he even vote for it?