By now, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson must feel like Cassandras—prophets of crisis doomed to be ignored.
At a Tuesday morning breakfast, the two launched their latest effort to persuade lawmakers and the public to rein in the nation’s growing debt, unveiling yet another plan to cut spending and raise revenue. It’s at least the fourth such effort from the duo, as The Wall Street Journal points out. And who knows if it will work.
The latest effort met controversy before Bowles, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, or Simpson, a former Republican senator, even got a word out. As the event began, a handful of scattered protesters stood up one at a time to criticize the pair’s “Fix the Debt” campaign and call for job and tax equity.
Bowles, Simpson, and moderator Mike Allen, Politico’s chief White House correspondent, handled the disruption in stride, but it was a reminder that a “grand bargain” on reducing the nation’s growing debt is at best elusive and at worst impossible. The nature of the Sisyphean task isn’t lost on the pair, though.
“We just keep clawing ahead,” Simpson said on Tuesday. “It’s such fun for me to irritate the AARP and Grover Norquist with equal measure.” And you can add the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest union federation, to that list. Its leader, Richard Trumka, described the pair’s latest plan as “dead on arrival” in a statement, adding that it sent a message to America’s working class to “drop dead.”
After the presidential commission they chaired failed to agree on a plan to reduce the nation's growing deficits, Bowles and Simpson launched the Fix the Debt campaign, a major effort to perseuade the public and lawmakers to address the problem in a comprehensive way. The group’s members, including major business leaders and former officials, held high-profile meetings at the Capitol and the White House throughout the fall, but failed to get lawmakers to agree to a broad solution to the year-end fiscal cliff.
The plan unveiled on Tuesday would reduce the deficit by about $2.4 trillion. About one-fourth of the solution would come from new revenue, another fourth from health care cuts, and the remainder from assorted other spending cuts, Bowles said on Tuesday.
“We need a grand bargain,” he added. Easier said than done.
This article appears in the Feb. 20, 2013, edition of National Journal Daily.