WASHINGTON— Erskine Bowles, the co-chair of President Barack Obama’s fiscal reform commission, told the Senate Budget Committee Tuesday that growing federal deficits are “a cancer and they are truly going to destroy this country from within, unless we have the common sense to do something about it” and urged senators to show leadership on the issue.
“I’m really concerned. I think we face the most predictable economic crisis in history,” Bowles said.
Bowles and former Senator Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., co-chaired the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform which released its report in December. They spent Tuesday telling senators that neither the Democrat nor the Republican plan for the budget does what it should to prevent a future economic crisis — and they pushed hard on those themes throughout their testimony.
“When I see people go on the Sunday shows and they say We’re going to cut our way out—we’re not going to deal with Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security,” Simpson said. “That’s not going to happen, that’s not a realistic world.”
Speaking on health care cost containment, Simpson said,“It’s a monster, you cut providers and you reduce physicians fees. If you don’t, it will eat a hole through everything you love in the discretionary budget.”
The commission’s report calls for discretionary spending cuts, comprehensive tax reform, health care cost containment, and most significantly, changes in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to ensure long-term solvency.
But it stops short of taking away benefits for Americans it believes are in real need. “We didn’t want to do anything that would hurt the truly disadvantaged, we did not touch food stamps, unemployment,” Bowles said.
Some senators worried out loud about the consequences of not following the commission’s cautions.
The committee’s chairman, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., paused questioning and asked Bowles, “What happens if this doesn’t get done?”
“This is a problem we’re going to have to face up to–maybe in two years, maybe sooner,” Bowles said. “The problem is real. The solutions are painful, and we have to act.”
Simpson then added that besides the military, Americans haven’t seen sacrifice since World War II.
Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., fired back at Simpson. Insisting he knows that what people working on Capitol Hill do is “not anything like going to Afghanistan,” Enzi did accuse the plan of having “Draconian” solutions that are not guarantees for preventing another financial crisis.
While the plan Simpson and Bowles defended Tuesday may have seemed harsh to some senators, the committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., seemed to agree that radical action might be necessary. “The remarks you have just made are very sobering,” Sessions said.