The leaders of the Simpson-Bowles commission are still shopping their 2-year-old, $4 trillion debt-reduction plan around Washington, and they say it is gaining enough traction to possibly form the basis for a bipartisan federal debt-cutting deal by year's end.
Former Sen. Alan K. Simpson, a Republican, and former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, a Democrat — the two men who were co-chairmen of the 2010 bipartisan commission that fell short of the votes needed to endorse its own plan — said Friday during a forum at George Washington University that their ideas are still the best option if Congress hopes to pass a deficit reduction plan in time to prevent $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts scheduled to go into effect Jan. 2.
The two men said they have support from 47 of 100 senators and about 150 of 435 House members who want to use the plan as a starting point for budget discussions during the post-election lame-duck session.
"If we don't get the folks here in Washington to wake up and put this ultrapartisanship aside and pull together rather than pull apart, we face the most predictable economic crisis in history," Mr. Bowles said. "And fortunately for us, it's the most avoidable economic crisis in history."
The 18-member Simpson-Bowles commission — formally known as the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform — was appointed in 2010 by President Obama and compiled a report calling for cuts to defense, health care and Social Security, as well as lower income and corporate tax rates and elimination of certain deductions.
The report, however, fell short of the 14 votes needed for the panel's formal endorsement as seven members — including three of six Democrats and all three GOP House members — rejected the plan.
The co-chairmen said Democrats were most uncomfortable with the tax cuts and what they considered too-steep budget reductions, while Republicans balked at the thought of slashing deductions and saw the budget cuts as not steep enough.
Both men said some lawmakers are growing on the prospect of compromise, and that support within both chambers is split virtually evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
However, they also accused many of being too beholden to special interests and re-election bids to address the nation's problems.
Mr. Simpson, a former three-term senator from Wyoming, contends that Democrats resist cuts to Social Security or Medicaid in deference to the AARP and elderly voters, while Republicans resist revenue increases to avoid being threatened by advocates such as Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.
"What can he do to you?," Mr. Simpson said. "If that means more to you than your country in extremity when it needs patriots instead of panderers, you shouldn't even be in the Congress."
The commission co-chairmen both said cuts to defense, health care and Social Security and tax reform are absolutely necessary to getting the nation out of its economic hole, and Mr. Simpson dismissed any contrary opinions as the talk of "absolute phonies" looking to reassure voters.
Mr. Bowles pointed out that the United States spends more on national defense than the world's 17 next-largest countries, including China and Russia, combined.
"That is crazy," he said. "I personally think that America is bearing a disproportionate responsibility for global world peace, and I don't think America can afford to be the world's policemen."
It remains to be seen whether Congress will act on the recommendations or form its own legislation in time to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff next year, but Mr. Bowles estimated that inaction could cost the country 2 million jobs and send unemployment rates to more than 9 percent next year alone.
"You will see economic growth slow by somewhere between 2 [percent] and 4 percent, which is enough to put us back into recession," he said. "The problems are real and the solutions are all on the table. There's no easy way out."
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