Deficit commission's leader knocks tax cut plan

Associated Press
Co-chairs of the National Bipartisan Commission on Budget Reform and Fiscal Responsibility, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson listen during a national debt forum, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010, in Cheyenne, Wyo. (AP Photo/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Michael Smith)

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One of the leaders of President Barack Obama's deficit commission said Wednesday he's "deeply disappointed" by the agreement between the White House and congressional Republicans to extend Bush-era tax-cuts without also getting a firm commitment on long-term fiscal restraint.

Erskine Bowles, co-chairman of the deficit commission and former chief of staff in the Clinton White House, said he plans to express his concerns Thursday to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and others at the White House.

Obama has said he remains committed to repealing tax cuts for the richest Americans but this week's agreement to extend them for two years was the only way to get Republicans to agree to continue unemployment benefits for millions of people.

"I am deeply disappointed that we have this short-term deal and it's not linked," Bowles said at a meeting in Cheyenne sponsored by the Wyoming Heritage Foundation. "It must be absolutely linked to long-term fiscal restraint."

Bowles and former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson are co-chairmen of Obama's commission seeking solutions to the nation's increasingly urgent debt problem. The commission's recommendations, which didn't receive enough votes from its own members last week to go to Congress for quick action, spell out a sweeping combination of spending cuts and higher taxes to cut about $4 trillion from the federal budget over the coming decade.

Simpson and Bowles warned that failing to act to reduce the deficit could leave the U.S. impoverished and unable to borrow money in the international market.

The chairmen said Americans understand the crisis and will insist on real action from Washington. They said enough people in Congress, including commission members, understand the problem that it won't get ignored.

"This little stink bomb has been rolled into the body politic, and it ain't going away," Simpson said of the commission's report. "It doesn't matter if they take a half an ounce of it or the whole bottle. This baby is embedded now in the national consciousness."

He said it's not clear how high deficits could climb in the U.S. before it faces a debt crisis similar to those in Greece and Ireland, but such an outcome is ultimately certain if drastic changes aren't made.

Congress will have to consider raising the national debt limit in May, Bowles said. Before then, he said he and Simpson want to see lawmakers come together with the administration to endorse a plan "to bring down these long-term deficits and restore fiscal sanity to our country."

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