Erskine Bowles

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Fiscal Commission co-chair Erskine Bowles expresses optimism about reaching a bipartisan consensus and cutting the deficit:

While letting all $3.9 trillion in the Bush tax cuts expire and implementing mindless across-the-board cuts is surely not the smart way to solve our long-term fiscal problems, that threat should be enough to force across the finish line a grand bargain similar to the one our commission proposed.

In addition to an improving economy, he points out that “the terms of the fiscal debate have fundamentally changed in ways that make lasting progress on the debt far more likely.”

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The good news is that we still have time to deal with the deficit problem, but the longer we put it off, the bigger it will become.  This problem is not one that can be solved either simply or quickly.  It is too large to solve solely with economic growth, or only with tax increases or spending cuts alone.  It will take some of all three.  Anyone who says with a straight face that we are going to deal with our deficit in a serious way without touching revenue, defense spending, Medicaid and Medicare and addressing the solvency of Social Security is not telling you the truth.

All of us have to make some sacrifices today so that our nation can remain strong in the future. As my friend and partner Al Simpson says, we all have to be prepared to give up something we like to protect the country we love.

That is the approach we took in the Fiscal Commission. Our plan asked for sacrifice from all but the most vulnerable in society.  We subjected all parts of the budget to scrutiny and cut wasteful and low-priority spending wherever we could find it.  Liberal and conservative Commission members were willing to accept tough choices in areas important to them as long as they saw everyone else willing to do the same with their priorities.  Everyone had to swallow hard and nearly choked on one item or another. None of us thought our plan was perfect. But perfection was not the goal. Getting an agreement on a plan big enough to be equal to the challenge was the goal.  In the end we were able to get a bipartisan supermajority of the Commission on a plan with $4 trillion in deficit reduction, three quarters from spending cuts and one quarter from increased revenue, which would stabilize our debt and put it on a downward path as a percentage of GDP.

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When people asked Al Simpson and me why we agreed to take on the challenge of finding a solution to our nation’s deficit and debt, we originally said we were doing it for our 15 grandkids, my nine and his six.  However, the more we got into the numbers, the more dire we understood our Country’s financial situation to be.  We quickly realized we were not doing this for our kids, much less our grandkids, we were doing it for all of us.  We realized that the fiscal problems facing our Country were enormous, the solutions would all be painful, and there simply was no easy way out.

After listening to economists and budgeters from both sides of the political aisle, it became clear to both Al and me as well as  the other members of our bipartisan commission that we faced the most predictable economic crisis in history; that the fiscal path our Country was on was not sustainable; that these trillion dollar deficits were like a cancer.  These deficits were going to slowly over time destroy our Country from within.  And when this cancer metastasized, it would happen so quickly that no one would believe it.

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