Former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles had a blunt warning Tuesday for the 12 members of a special joint committee tasked with tackling the nation’s debt.
“I’m worried you’re going to fail – fail the country,” Bowles, a former co-chairman of President Obama’s fiscal reform commission, told the bipartisan debt supercommittee at the panel’s fifth public hearing Tuesday afternoon.
Warning that the country faces “the most predictable economic crisis in history,” Bowles urged the supercommittee to reach a compromise such as the plan he and former senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) devised that includes both spending cuts and tax increases.
“I believe that if you all go big, and if you’re bold, and if you do it in a smart manner, then the American people will support you. . . .I hope for the country’s sake you will,” he said.
Testifying with Bowles at Tuesday’s hearing were Simpson and the former co-chairs of a separate debt reduction commission, former White House budget director Alice Rivlin and former senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.).
The four urged the supercommittee to capitalize on its fast-track authority and craft a plan by its Nov. 23 deadline that would achieve as much as $4 trillion in deficit savings rather than a smaller $1.2 trillion proposal, warning that nothing less than the country’s fiscal future is at stake.
“Let me be blunt,” Domenici told the panel. “A plan that does not fundamentally restructure Medicare and other health entitlements will fail to adequately address the debt crisis that we face.”
If neither side agrees to compromise, he argued, both “will be equally complicit in bringing the nation closer to the fiscal brink.”
“I hope you heard that,” he added. “I said it, and it’s not like me.”
Simpson, known as the most outspoken of the four former co-chairs, told the supercommittee’s 12 members that “in your gut, you know what you have to do.”
“People admire guts and courage,” he said. “They may fight you, they may vilify you, but they will admire you.”
He also took aim at those outside the supercommittee who are urging the panel not to compromise on revenue and entitlement reform.
Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, who has led the GOP charge against tax increases, “should run for president,” Simpson quipped. And he called the AARP’s recent ad campaign calling on the supercommittee not to cut entitlement benefits “a really ugly thing” and “the most disgusting ad I’ve ever seen.”
The AARP defended its position in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
“Once again, we are disappointed in the criticism by some who mistake strengthening Social Security with deficit reduction,” AARP Senior Vice President John Hishta said. “Today’s hearing is not held by the Joint Committee on Retirement Security. Rather the mission of this ‘supercommittee’ and the panels from whom they’re hearing today is deficit reduction, with an overwhelming focus on cutting spending.”
“In politics, there are no right answers, only a continuum of compromises,” Simpson told the joint committee as he wrapped up his testimony.
With three weeks remaining until its deadline, time is running short for the panel. And amid reports that six of the committee’s members have been meeting separately in the hope of crafting a $1.2 trillion plan, Domenici warned Tuesday that compromise on a bigger deal to address the debt might not be able to wait until the next “odd-numbered, non-election year.”
“We might not get to the next one unscathed -- I’m saying we might have the calamity before that event,” he said.
This story has been updated.
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