MY VIEW: Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson October 2013

The budget conference committee will begin to meet in full shortly, when the conferees will begin to look for a compromise between the Senate and House budgets and hopefully, finally put the country on a sustainable fiscal path. Today, former Fiscal Commission co-chairs and CRFB board members Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson write in The Hill that lawmakers should use the opportunity to lead and end the governing by crisis approach of the last few years:

It is time for leaders to break the cycle of bouncing from crisis to crisis by taking three common-sense steps: Stop the madness, start talking and solve the problem.

We suggest deliberations should start by identifying areas of agreement. There seems to be broad-based support for reforming farm subsidies, modifying the federal worker retirement system and charging user fees that better reflect the actual costs of certain government programs. Savings in these areas could be used to soften the blow of the mindless sequestration over the next year or two and allow appropriators to fund defense and non-defense discretionary programs at more reasonable levels.

Trading across-the-board, temporary and anti-growth cuts for more targeted and permanent savings would represent an important step, but negotiators must resist the temptation to declare victory with such a “small ball” approach.

There are no shortage of blueprints to emulate. Along with the many plans that have been proposed over the last few year, Bowles and Simpson point to their Bipartisan Path Forward proposal that was released earlier this year in March. While they clarify that it is not their ideal plan or the only plan out there, it might offer some guidance on how lawmakers should proceed. What policies should be included is still an open question, but a plan must address all parts of the budget. Conclude Simpson and Bowles:

Policymakers should seek to reach agreement on a framework that at a minimum stabilizes the debt as a share of GDP. Reaching such an agreement will require Democrats to accept some structural reforms of entitlements, and will require Republicans to use a portion of revenues that will result from simplifying the tax code for deficit reduction, instead of using all savings to reduce tax rates. But such an agreement is achievable.

It is going to take real political courage on both sides to come together to find common ground. The problem is real, the solutions are painful, and there is no easy way out. But there is room for a solution if both parties commit to stop the madness, start talking and solve the problem.

Click here to read the full piece.

"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.