The drafters of a year-old plan to help avoid the fiscal cliff facing the U.S. economy Friday opined that neither the media nor the candidates talked about the looming financial crisis during the four presidential debates. They suggested it was the elephant -- and donkey -- in the room that everybody avoided.
At a Peterson Foundation financial conference covered by C-SPAN, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, former cochairs of the president's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, talked about the fact that some of the hard choices they made in coming up with a deficit-reduction plan last October that made targeted, but tough, cuts were now being looked at more seriously as the Jan. 1 deadline for a budget deal, or across-the-board "sequester" cuts.
They also talked about some of those hard choices not being on the agenda of the presidential candidates and televised debates.
"Isn't it amazing that, during the election, at all four of the debates, the words fiscal cliff were never, ever mentioned, and not by the reporters, not by the candidates," said Bowles. "Nor was there ever mention of the solvency of Social Security or what to do with Medicare, which is on an unsustainable course. To think that debate took place and nobody ever got into the two big things that are driving this country."
Simpson called their deficit-reduction plan a stink bomb at a garden party. Nobody liked it, he said, which became clear when the recommendations were not adopted by Congress, in part because of pushback from all the affected industries and interest. He said he expected their "fangs" to come out again now that the Simpson/Bowles plan is not only getting a fresh look, but some parts may be adopted.
One cut that public broadcasters are hoping remains off the table is zeroing out federal funding for noncoms, one of the "painful" cuts the Simpson/Bowles report recommended to achieve $200 billion in savings (the CBP portion is about a quarter of a percent at about $500 million). Other cuts included reducing funding to the Smithsonian and National Parks, selling excess federal property, freezing federal salaries, and cutting the federal work force by 10%.
Bowles said he thought there was still a good chance of avoiding the fiscal cliff. Simpson was less sanguine, saying he thought "they will go over the cliff," though he said that would be "disastrous."
Bowles agreed, saying if there is no deal, the country's credit will be downgraded, the stock market will crash, two million jobs will be lost, capital expenditures will decline, and consumer confidence will decline.
To watch more of their take on the economic crisis, click here.