Erskine Bowles: The Risks of Delaying Fiscal Reforms

Erskine Bowles is a former co-chair of the Simpson-Bowles Fiscal Commission and a member of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. He wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in the New York Times as a response to a column by Paul Krugman.

Paul Krugman’s Feb. 2 column, “The Long-Run Cop-Out,” claims that we don’t need to deal with our long-term fiscal challenges any time soon, and that those who argue otherwise are lazy and lacking in courage. His message is a disservice to the critically important debate about our nation’s economic future.

America’s unsustainable fiscal outlook is not a question — even Mr. Krugman concedes that we have a long-term problem. The more important, and still unanswered, questions are: If not now, when and how do we address our fiscal challenges?

Mr. Krugman’s assertion that America followed a course of austerity while the economy was still in a deep slump due to the influence of “Bowles-Simpsonism” ignores the fact that one of the key principles set out in the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform report was that deficit reduction must not disrupt the fragile economic recovery.

Indeed, it is largely due to the failure of our elected leaders to reach agreement on long-term deficit reduction along the lines of our recommendations that we ended up with the mindless austerity of sequestration. In our report we recommended delaying significant budget cuts until the economy recovered, and implementing reforms gradually.

Just as doing too much too soon is a mistake, waiting forever to make the difficult political decisions is also a mistake. Not to decide is to decide. The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to put our fiscal house in order. Without action we risk squeezing out critical investments in our economic future, including priorities such as education, infrastructure and research, as spending on interest on our debt roughly triples over the next decade on our current course.

Getting Washington to make tough choices about long-term problems is always a challenge. But delaying fiscal solutions simply hurts our economy and jeopardizes the very programs and populations that many of us are trying to protect.

"My Views" are works published by members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the committee.