Op-Ed: The Country Must Act to Address the Debt

US News & World Report | February 20, 2012

My old pal Erskine Bowles and I were deeply disappointed by the failure to reach agreement on a long-term plan to put the country back on a fiscally sustainable path during negotiations leading up to the "fiscal cliff." But the problem isn't going away, so neither are we! That's why we decided to go "once more unto the breach" and put forward a blueprint for a new framework to address our mounting debt.

This country needs to act—and soon—to put in place a plan which will truly deal with our destructive debt problem and put that debt on a clear downward path relative to the economy. And we shouldn't do that with stupid, mindless, across-the-board cuts (sequester) to important investments; we should replace these cuts with targeted spending cuts, structural entitlement reforms, and comprehensive tax reform.

We simply can not afford another year of fiscal brinksmanship with no real solutions being offered by either side. There is no way around it: Democrats and Republicans are going to have to come together to find common ground if they have any hope of hauling the country back on a fiscally sustainable path.

Our present activity is to remind both sides how close they were last December before negotiations broke down. And we wanted to push both sides to go outside of their comfort zones in the spirit of principled compromise.

We said that Democrats are going to have to go further in reforming entitlements, particularly healthcare—than they would want, but we can and must do it in a way that protects the most vulnerable in our society. We said Republicans are going to have to accept more revenues, not through tax increases but through tax reform which repeals or reforms various deductions, exclusions, loopholes, and credits—which are really just spending by another name and most of which go mainly to the wealthy—in order to reduce the deficit and lower rates.

There is no one solution to the problem, and the proposal we put forward is not perfect and is not even our ideal plan. It is the minimum that needs to be done to bring our debt under control. It is going to take real guts and political courage on both sides to come together to find common ground for the good of the country. We hope this plan can serve as a mark for those discussions to move forward.

It is time to revive the grand bargain. It is our best present hope for sustained economic growth and a brighter future.