President Obama is joined by the chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Friday, July 13, 2012 5:22 PM
Two former U.S. senators are again sounding an alarm over this nation’s budgetary problems.
Erskine Bowles, a Democrat, and Alan Simpson, a Republican, said absent a compromise by both political parties on debt reduction, the United States faces a financial crisis.
“I think if I had to tell you the probability, I’d say the chances are we are going over the fiscal cliff,” Bowles said. “I hate to say it, but I think that’s probably right.”
Bowles and Simpson are no country bumpkins. Appointed by President Obama, they headed up the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, a 19-person committee that developed a plan that would have trimmed the federal deficit by $4 trillion by 2020.
The plan recommended forcing budget discipline in Congress by enacting stringent caps on discretionary spending, lower tax rates for individuals and corporations while simultaneously closing many tax loopholes, reforming Medicare to reduce its skyrocketing costs, reducing agriculture subsidies, modernizing civil service and military retirement systems, reforming Social Security and gradually extending the age when it can be collected for early and full benefits and overhauling the federal budgetary process.
In the report’s introduction, Bowles and Simpson wrote, “The problem is real. The solution will be painful. There is no easy way out. Everything must be on the table, and Washington must lead.’’
But the plan was dead on arrival when it arrived on the president’s desk, which speaks way more about the disfunction inside the Beltway than it does about the commission’s recommendations.
Bowles said last week that because the debt reduction was “politically painful”, it would likely be kicked down the road.
“I think that if we don’t get these politicians to come together we face the most predictable economic crisis in history,” he said. “I think it’s absolutely clear that the fiscal path we are on is not sustainable, and for me, the best analogy is these deficits are like a cancer, and over time they will destroy the country from within.”
Bowles said that “every nickel” the federal government brings in each year only paid for interest on the debt and mandatory spending on entitlement programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Simpson said the country’s current fiscal path is unsustainable and borders on insanity.
“What that means is every single dollar we spent last year on these two wars, national defense, homeland security, education, infrastructure, high value-added research, every dollar was borrowed and half of it was borrowed from foreign countries,’’ he said. ‘‘That is crazy. Crazy! It’s a formula for failure in any organization.”
What then to do?
For starters, it should be one of the top issues in the upcoming presidential race.
Closer to home, voters across southwest Louisiana have an opportunity to elect a congressman in November. The odds-on favorites are current Seventh District Congressman Charles Boustany Jr. and Third District Congressman Jeff Landry.
Voters should question in great detail how the two top contenders would address the nation’s deficit. And they shouldn’t accept a 15-second sound bite or a clever 30-second commercial as the answer.
The debt problem is real, it is daunting and it will require forward thinking, sacrifice and, in many instances, compromise with the opposing party.
Anything less will result in a financial catastrophe.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Dennis Spears, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.