Fix the Debt Event Recap

Yesterday, the Campaign to Fix the Debt officially launched with a press conference at that National Press Club. The Campaign is intended to drum up support from people across the country for a bipartisan fiscal plan that prevents the exponential rise in debt that is projected to happen. It will also provide resources and ideas for lawmakers who want to be a part of this solution.

The press conference included CRFB president Maya MacGuineas, Fix the Debt Co-Chairs Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA) and Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), Campaign Co-founder Erskine Bowles, Honeywell CEO David Cote, Peter Peterson, Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), Steve Rattner, former World Bank president Robert Zoellick, CRFB Board Member Alice Rivilin and Paul Stebbins.

The press conference opened with MacGuineas introducing the event. She said the campaign is meant to bring together businesses leaders and the public to create a welcome environment to put in place a bipartisan plan to fix the debt. She argued that if we "fail to act, the consequences will be immensely serious." She noted that the campaign will have a serious social-media campaign and that it will be "partnering with all sorts of different groups." 

Following MacGuineas, each person gave brief remarks, starting with Gov. Rendell. He said the group has agreed to a few central points: that we need a significant debt reduction plan that includes all parts of the budget, that the deal needs to be bipartisan, that it needs to be a multi-trillion dollar reduction, and that the plan needs to preserve economic growth and protect the needy. Rendell also gave three reasons why he believes this effort will succeed: (1) this is an unprecedented group; (2) it is dedicated to getting a deal; and (3) the consequences of inaction are becoming clearer and clearer to the American people. Finally, he said the deadline for this campaign is July 4, 2013 and that the "era of debt denial is clearly over."

Former Sen. Gregg followed starting by saying that everyone on the stage is a "do-er." Gregg noted that we are in trouble and said that we only need to look "across the pond" to see where bad economic policy can lead us, and that in some ways, the US is worse than some of the European nations were before their crisis.

Former World Bank President Zoellick was also present and argued that the US is one budget deal away from locking in our economic preeminence. He noted that Alexander Hamilton established the foundation for a history of strong credit, but that the budget crisis we are facing will be a test of whether we can continue that. He also added that addressing the debt would help maintain our prominence internationally.

Former Sen. Nunn followed Zoellick by stressing the need for bipartisanship and said neither party will be able to impose its views even after the election. He also noted that "this is not physics, this is not calculus, this is arithmetic," so it is not as if we don't know how to fix the problem. He also expressed his unhappiness that the people who are currently trying to fix the debt in a bipartisan manner are getting little support. He then noted that a rally point could be Simpson-Bowles and that Simpson-Bowles should be the de-facto replacement for the fiscal cliff if no deal is reached.

Peterson followed and said that there is wide support for a deal. He cited a survey of public officials from both parties where the result was 100% that our fiscal situation is not sustainable, that six different think tanks last year all agreed the same and proposed plans to fix the debt, and that polls suggest the vast majority of people from both parties recognize that both spending and taxes need to be part of the deal. He used these arguments to make the point that, "the public is saying that we want to compromise."

David Cote was the next speaker, recalling that he was shocked to learn of the size of the problem as a member of the Fiscal Commission. He noted that the uncertainty over the debt and how it will be resolved is hurting business. Specifically, he called for a simplified tax system that raises more revenue and a simplified entitlement system that spends less. In terms of the global economy, Cote asserted that passing a deal could be the biggest thing to make the US more competitive. 

Rivlin followed and she argued that this campaign is called "fix the debt, but what it really is, is fix the economy" because the debt and the economy are very much interrelated. She also noted that the problem is arithmetic and that "it isn't very complicated, it is doable."

Steve Rattner was next and he remarked, "I cannot think...of a single person that I know of that I work with on Wall Street that does not believe that this is a major life threatening problem for our economy." He noted that everyone on Wall Street knows how big a problem it is and that we should not take our current low interest rates for granted, saying, "markets are not as fast acting and as responsive as you might think them to be." He also argued that markets dislike uncertainty, as evidenced by the debt ceiling debacle last year and closed with, "everyday we let [our debt problem] fester makes it more difficult and harder to fix."

After Rattner was Paul Stebbins, declaring that it never occurred to him starting out in business that "the single greatest long-term threat to my ability to compete in the world economy was the fiscal solvency of the United States." He also stated that the goal of the campaign is to "help create the political will to get this done and to take control of our economic destiny." 

Erskine Bowles spoke last, arguing that "our nation faces the most predictable economic crisis in our history." He pointed out that there are many good ideas on the table already from many bipartisan efforts, and that the only thing we now need is the political will to act. Bowles closed by claiming that the "markets will rejoice if we come together on a bipartisan, balanced plan and if we do that, the future of this country is very, very bright." 

Yesterday's successful launch is just the first step for the Campaign to Fix the Debt. It will require a lot more effort to accomplish the Campaign's goals. To that end, we need your help. Sign up at to get involved in this effort. 

The full video of the event is below.