Erskine Bowles (left) and Alan Simpson are co-chairs of the National Committee on Fiscal Responsibility, a group looking to help ease the nation's debt crisis.
ALBANY -- With Democrats and Republicans haggling over proposed fiscal 2012 budget cuts and facing a looming government shutdown, the National Commission of Fiscal Responsibility's Erskine Bowles says now is the time to act in order for the nation to avoid financial calamity.
"Our national debt is unsustainable," Bowles, former President Bill Clinton's Chief of Staff, said. "It's like a cancer destroying our country from within. If we do nothing we'll be paying a trillion dollars a year in interest alone by the end of the decade."
Bowles, who shares the NCFR's chair with former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, joined Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr., D-Albany, on a conference call to the media today. He described the crisis as "the most predictable economic disaster in our country's history. We were surprised by the mortgage crisis, but we can see this one coming."
With the national debt now pushing $14 trillion, Democrats are willing to slash $33 billion in discretionary spending from the 2012 budget while House Republicans are shooting for $61 billion -- the largest proposed reduction in government spending since the end of World War II.
With the budget in limbo, the impasse has raised the specter of a government shutdown and highlighted the chasm existing between the two parties on how best to corral the mounting national debt.
"This is not a Democratic or Republican problem," Bowles said. "This is an American problem. We cannot tax our way out of this problem and we cannot cut our way out of this problem either. Everything, entitlements, tax increases, defense, everything should be on the table to reduce the deficit by $8 trillion over the next decade."
"Our nation is at a crossroad," Bishop said. "Tough choices have to be made, because it is clear that our current fiscal path is unsustainable. Painful solutions lay before us and it's time we started acting like adults and get our fiscal house in order.
"Both Democrats and Republicans must come together to make this happen."
Bishop said a coalition of Blue Dog Democrats is attempting to reach across the aisle to their Republican counterparts while in the Senate, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, and Democratic senators Dick Durbin and Mark Warner are among the "Gang of Six" who are attempting who are attempting to bridge the gap in that body.
"I've known Sanford Bishop for a long time," Bowles said. "And I am not surprised to see him leading a bipartisan effort to find a solution to this fiscal insanity facing our nation.
"We are also working with 'The Gang of Six.' Saxby Chambliss and Mark Warner have been real leaders in this effort to work across party lines. They have been an enormous help."
The NCFR makes five basic recommendations to attack the deficit and rein in the national debt:
-- Enact tough discretionary spending caps and provide $200 billion in illustrative domestic and defense savings in 2015.
-- Pass tax reform that dramatically reduces rates, simplifies the code, broadens the base, and reduces the deficit.
-- Address the "Doc Fix" not through deficit spending but through savings from payment reforms, cost-sharing, and malpractice reform, and long-term measures to control health care cost growth.
-- Achieve mandatory savings from farm subsidies, military and civil service retirement.
-- Ensure Social Security solvency for the next 75 years while reducing poverty among seniors.
"Every American knows what needs to be done," Bowles said. "Our representatives need to stop worshipping at the altar of the 'Great God of Reelection' and begin working on principled compromise."
Bishop stressed the time for partisanship is over.
"None of us are happy with all of the recommendations," Bishop said. "But the Blue Dog Coalition and The Gang of Six are all pointed in the same direction."