Barack Obama's greatest mistake as president is likely the opportunity he didn't take — the opportunity to endorse and push for the reforms proposed by the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction commission. The proposals, which went nowhere after the much-ballyhooed panel reported back to the president, would have reduced the federal deficit by $3.6 trillion or so. It called for some tough cuts, including reductions in Medicare and Social Security spending, and it called for new revenues. In other words, it was a bipartisan plan, which was devised by a bipartisan panel of smart, experienced and realistic committee members. It could have given the president some shelter from inevitable criticism — this is what the committee recommended. But Obama let the controversial plan wither without his endorsement and without any effort to follow through on the course he had initiated.
Now, another panel, this one composed of highly partisan members of Congress looking out for their own and their party's political future, is tasked with coming up with a deficit reduction plan by Thanksgiving — or else. The "or else" is automatic spending cuts that would reduce government spending across the board, slashing essential spending as well as optional spending and entirely forgoing the option of raising revenues, which most Americans say they favor.
It's too late for Obama to go back and reconsider endorsing the Bowles-Simpson plan. His cowardly error has put us on this path that leads to potential chaos in only three weeks.
I can't think of a worse error in his presidency.