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Posted at 2:01 PM ET, 03/ 8/2011

Simpson, Bowles kick off campaign to focus on longer-term deficit reduction

By Felicia Sonmez

Former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), co-chairmen of President Obama's fiscal reform commission, kicked off a campaign Tuesday to promote the panel's final report and the efforts of a group of senators working on long-term deficit reduction.

The leaders of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform testified Tuesday morning before the Senate Budget Committee about the report, which recommends measures to cut annual deficits by $4 trillion by 2020.

On Tuesday afternoon, the two were slated to join with the bipartisan "Gang of Six" senators to launch the "Moment of Truth Project," a program sponsored by the New America Foundation.

The events come as the Senate and House continue to wrangle over how to keep the government funded through the end of September. Simpson, Bowles and the senators' group are working to turn attention back to the country's longer-term fiscal issues.

At the outset of Tuesday's Senate Budget Committee hearing, Bowles acknowledged that the commission's report was "a politically very, very difficult plan to support," but emphasized that the country's long-term deficit problem is "the most predictable economic crisis in history."

"A lot of us sitting in this room didn't see this last crisis as it came upon us," he said. "But this one is really easy to see. The fiscal path we are on today is simply not sustainable."

Both he and Simpson were peppered with questions from senators on the ins and outs of the committee report as well as President Obama's proposed budget for fiscal 2012. The two repeatedly emphasized the need to restore the solvency of Social Security; Simpson pushed back against claims that they're "balancing the budget on the backs of poor, old Social Security people."

"That's a fake, it's a phony, it's wrong, it's untrue," he said.

Simpson added that if Congress can't get Social Security solvent for 75 years, "you can forget everything. You will never get to Medicare, Medicaid and defense. You will have failed what we see as the easiest thing to do, which is to restore the solvency of Social Security for 75 years."

Both acknowledged that Obama's fiscal 2012 proposal fell short of what they would have liked to have seen. Bowles said that Obama's budget "does a relatively good job" of dealing with domestic discretionary spending cuts but doesn't make cuts to defense spending or other types of reforms that the commission would like to have seen.

Later Tuesday, Simpson and Bowles were slated to join with the bipartisan "Gang of Six" senators to launch the "Moment of Truth Project," a program hosted by the New America Foundation.

The events come as the Senate and House continue to wrangle over a way forward on keeping the government funded through the end of September. Simpson, Bowles and the bipartisan group of senators are working to turn attention back to the country's longer-term fiscal issues.

The events also come as the "Gang of Six" has been hitting the road to gin up public support for long-term deficit reduction. The six include four members of the fiscal commission - Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) - as well as Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who approached the other four senators in January to continue the commission's work in weekly meetings.

House Republican leaders have said that they will attempt to tackle entitlement reform in their 2012 budget, a point reiterated by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a Monday floor speech.

The White House has been involved in negotiations with congressional leaders on funding the government, but those talks have focused only on the way forward for the current fiscal year, not on a larger solution. In addition to a hesitant White House, those pushing for progress on long-term deficit reduction face resistance from members of both party bases.

This post has been updated since it was first published.

By Felicia Sonmez  | March 8, 2011; 2:01 PM ET
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I still don't see how they are going to reduce the deficit while at the same time maintaining some of the lowest tax rates in history. Tax rates accross the board are at their lowest in history and deficits at their highest.

Nobody wants to say it, but the best way to fix this problem is to raise taxes.

The recent extension of Bush era tax cuts had they not been extended would have increased income for the government by $370 Billion per year.

In contrast the lets cut programs Republican plan has only managed to find $60B so far.

You can't cut taxes, wage a war, and prop up a failing economy at the same time. You have to pick ONE.

Posted by: wleeper | March 8, 2011 11:29 AM | Report abuse

It is interesting that Obama established the deficit commission, then ran away from its conclusions when its report was released. I believe that for the Republicans to succeed in their push to reduce the budget deficit, they must incorporate many of the provisions of the commission. If they do, the Democrats would have no fallback because the ideas for the cuts would be coming from their own commission.

Posted by: mike85 | March 8, 2011 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Democrats are putting cuts for Social Security, education and many other social programs on the table.

What are the Republicans putting on the table to cut?

That is other than taxes!


Posted by: helloisanyoneoutthere | March 8, 2011 12:35 PM | Report abuse

to wleeper: You are right on the money.

The deficit reduction commission report must have mentioned increasing tax rates, but republicans are apparently too dense (or corrupted by big money contributions) to understand.

Posted by: loyalsyst | March 8, 2011 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Senator Conrad was on a morning show the other day ranting about how we are broke. He was then asked about Libya and he said that he was in favor of supplying the rebels with arms. He is typical of the people who have got us into this mess. There doesn't seem to be any war that we won't get involved in, with money we don't have. In the name of what, Democracy abroad, American interests, American defense, oil? He needs to view Soc/Sec recipients not as "teets," but as freedom fighters, and support their cause of protecting the Democracy prototype. Long live American Social Security recipients.

Posted by: mcdermottmike1 | March 8, 2011 1:31 PM | Report abuse

I watched Simpson's bait & switch operation live. It was a very seriously staged farce.

They spent more time congratulating and complimenting themselves during the opening than they did on defense spending! It's as though we weren't involved in two completely optional wars on borrowed money! (To their credit they noted that we spend as much on defense as the next 14 nations combined.)

So it seems that although Democrats won a Presidential election, the Neocons & Israeli Lobby from the Bush era won on what matters: spending! They've used jinned-up terrorism threat to very effectively rattle Americans, fooling them into accepting insane defense spending from here on out, no matter who wins elections!

Posted by: AIPACiswar | March 8, 2011 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Myths of the Deficit

By Marty Wolfson

Nearly 15 million people are officially counted as unemployed in the United States, and more than 6 million of these have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks. Another 11 million are the “hidden” unemployed: jobless workers who have given up looking for work and part-time workers who want full-time jobs. Unemployment has especially affected minority communities; the official black teenage unemployment rate, for example, stands at 42%.

The moral case for urgently addressing the unemployment issue is clear. The costs of unemployment, especially prolonged unemployment, are devastating. Self-worth is questioned, homes are lost, families stressed, communities disrupted. Across the land, the number one issue is jobs, jobs, jobs.

The economic case for how to address the jobs issue is also clear. As Keynes argued during the Great Depression, federal government spending can directly create jobs. And the $787 billion stimulus package approved by Congress in February 2009 did help pull the economy back from disaster, when it was shedding 20,000 jobs a day in late 2008 and early 2009.

Borrowing by the federal government can in some situations create a real burden, but it has less to do with generational transfers and more to do with distributional issues and the nature of economic growth (discussed above). If the grandchildren who are taxed in the future to pay off government debt are poorer than the grandchildren who are paid, the distribution of income becomes more unequal.

Also, cutting taxes for the rich and spending money on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan do not lead to the kind of productive economic growth that generates strong tax revenue. So financing these by debt does create a real distributional burden: The rich and military contractors benefit, but the losers are those who might be taxed, or those whose government programs might be squeezed out of the budget, because of the need to pay interest on the debt.

Borrowing money to put people back to work does make sense. It helps people most in need, the unemployed. It provides them with income that they can use to pay taxes and to buy goods and services that create more jobs, more income, and more tax revenue. Indeed, our inability thus far to seriously tackle the unemployment problem is what has worsened the budget problem, as tax receipts have fallen and spending for unemployment benefits and food stamps have risen. An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute reveals that the largest source of the 2009 budget deficit (42%) was actually the recession itself.

We will leave a burden for our grandchildren if we don‘t address the urgent problem of unemployment, if we let parents and grandparents suffer the indignities and financial hardships of lost jobs. We will leave a burden for our grandchildren if we don‘t rebuild our aging infrastructure, break our reliance on fossil fuels.

Posted by: rheckler2002 | March 8, 2011 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Much as I hate to say it, we need to look at reducing social security benefits as a means of reducing the debt/deficit. It might be hard for some of us to live with $100 less each month, but we could do it - and feel better about ourselves and the financial state of this country. Better me than some first grade kid...

Posted by: jujones1 | March 8, 2011 4:10 PM | Report abuse

To debate the future deficits, let's look at the current spending. The latest complete data is from 2009, so here it is:

General Government 23.0
Federal employee pensions 55.7
Interest 186.9
Defense 794.0
Protection 51.5
Vendor Payments (Welfare) 300.0
Welfare excl unemployment 284.4
Public health services 3.8
R&D Health 30.6
Education 90.8
Transportation 84.3
Other Spending 377.1
Mysterious things that increased national debt over the published deficit 477.1

deficits of separately funded programs:
--Social security deficit ex any trust fund 29.0
--Medicare deficit ex any trust fund 141.5
--Unemployment deficit 84.6

Less than 1/2 of it was collected in taxes.

SS deficit is 29 billion dolars, out of some 1.5 trillion dollars. How exactly does it rise to first priority?

Posted by: awells1902 | March 8, 2011 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Oh yeah. While people can have different opinions on what will work, and what will not, should not the paid reporters at least point out the facts relevant to the story?

Posted by: awells1902 | March 8, 2011 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Yonkers, New York
08 March 2011

The White House and the Congress would be guilty of irresponsibility of they ignore the serious and weighty recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction Commmittee which have to do with fundamental and long-term reforms, in particular on how to keep Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the three major "entitlement" programs which now eat up around 88 percent of the Federal budget.

If they limit their efforts at deficit reduction to the 12-percent sliver of the Federal budget called "Discretionary Spending," they would simply be "nibbling at the edges," and thus avoid making the bold and even draconian decisions needed to tame the Federal budget deficits which, for 2011, is estimated to reach $1.5 trillion.

What America needs in this her time of testing are leaders who will finally "bite the bullet."

Mariano Patalinjug

Posted by: MPatalinjug | March 8, 2011 5:53 PM | Report abuse

(1) There was no "report," or "conclusion" or "recommendation" of the commission co-chaired by Bowles and Simpson. There was a proposal by the co-chairmen, which, under the commission's rules, did not garner sufficient support to be adopted by the commission. The representation that the co-chairmen's recommendations are the report of the commission is a big lie propagated by Bowles and Simpson, and there enablers, such as the Post.

(2) Simpson's contention that we need to start by "fixing" the Social Security benefits for people who are now toddlers is idiotic. Presumably, whatever we decide now, they will feel free to change when they grow up and get the vote. More importantly, the factors driving us over the cliff are under-taxation, health care costs, and military spending. Let's focus on the important issues instead of carrying on an ideological assault on Social Security.

Posted by: dwells3 | March 8, 2011 8:49 PM | Report abuse

The "Strategic Oil Reserve" has existed for 50 years and never has been used for much except reversing temporary oil price spikes. There is currently 725 million barrels of oil in the reserve. At $100 per barrel that is 725 billion dollars. If America sold 350 million barrels it would raise 350 billion dollars to offset the deficit. Buy low, sell high, thats capitalism, right?

Posted by: rkerg | March 8, 2011 10:01 PM | Report abuse

Deficit reduction begins with cutting US defense spending from $1.2T to $400B (twice Russia and China combined). That is $800B per year savings.

As for Social Security, it has run a surplus for 30 years which Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson BORROWED $3T to finance the defense budget. SS pays its way. Even if Bowles and Simpson's plan to stiff taxpayers of the $3T Bowles and Simpson's "borrowed", a slight increase of 1% in SS tax and applying it to all income with no upper limit (Goldman, Sachs pirates pay SS...the sorrow and the pity)...SS is fine. SS never contributed to the current $14T Reagan/Bush/Bowles/Simpson deficit while defense, tax cuts, big ag and big oil subsidies did create the debt.

So when the "budget hawks" talk of reducing US military spending by $800B, you will know they are honest. If they don't, you know they are lying.

Posted by: EaglesPDX | March 8, 2011 10:02 PM | Report abuse

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