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Capitol Hill visitors offer insight into debt

Published: Thursday, January 30, 2014

Updated: Thursday, January 30, 2014 00:01


Roger Zhang

Alan K. Simpson, left, and Erskine B. Bowles, right, answer questions from Andrew Card about the debt crisis.

With former President George H. W. Bush and his wife, Barbara Bush, among the audience members in a full auditorium, former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former U.S. Sen. Alan K. Simpson shared their insight Wednesday night on what it would take to solve the national debt.

Bowles and Simpson were both awarded the Mosbacher Good Governance Award for their non-partisan attempts to tackle the nation’s debt and each gave individual presentations before having a discussion moderated by the Bush School’s acting dean, Andrew Card.

As co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, Bowles said he and Simpson quickly saw the seriousness of conquering the national debt.

“When [Simpson] and I said we would co-chair this commission, we thought we were doing it for our grandkids,” Bowles said. “The more we looked at the numbers, the more we got familiar with the country’s current fiscal condition, it became clearer we weren’t doing it for our grandkids, we weren’t even doing it for our kids — we were doing it for us. That’s how dire the situation is.”

Through Bowles and Simpson’s “Fix the Debt” campaign, Bowles said there have been mistakes and accomplishments, but there is still a long way to go.

“I want you to stop and think about what the country has done since [Simpson] and I came out with our report, over three years ago now,” Bowles said. “We’ve done the easy stuff, we’ve done the stupid stuff, but we’ve avoided meeting any of the big challenges that face the country today.”

The “easy stuff,” Bowles said, included decisions like the cap on congressional spending and the “stupid stuff” mainly included the sequestration of 2013. What Bowles termed the “tough stuff” made up the five key points of his and Simpson’s campaign — healthcare, national defense, tax code, social security and interest on the national debt.

Card said if every American citizen were to pay off the debt today, each would pay $55,000.

“The debt to GDP ratio, right now, is just about 100 percent,” Card said. “That means we are borrowing everything we are spending.”

Bowles and Simpson said healthcare spending is growing more quickly than the nation’s GDP, and Simpson said the shortcomings in the healthcare system come from multiple areas.

Simpson said part of the problem lies in the needs of U.S. citizens prompted by poor health decisions.

“One person in the United States weighs more than the other two [of another country]. That’s a statistic,” Simpson said. “[There is a lot of] Type 2 diabetes, that’s the one that’s not genetic. You’ve got people who choose to do booze, tobacco and other drugs and they’re going to the wellness center next year — the drinks are on me.”

Thousands of people are turning 65 each day and becoming eligible for Medicare, and Simpson said the over-pricing of medical services is also a financial drain.

“You’ve got to do something with providers who make something for 83 cents and then sell it to the government for $8.50,” Simpson said. “Then you’ve got to do something with a guy who gets a heart operation for 200,000 bucks and never even gets a bill.”

Simpson said the lack of trust between competing parties in Washington is the main hindrance in furthering his and Bowles’ efforts.

“I believe if we don’t get these politicians — from the right and the left — to wake up and put this ultra-partisanship aside and pull together, rather than apart, then our country will face the most predictable economic crisis in history,” Bowles said.

The debt crisis, Bowles said, has revealed how a lack of compromise not only fails to solve the problem, but also turns the country into its own inhibitor.

“The Pew Report asked a random sample of the American people the question ‘Who is America’s biggest enemy?’” he said. “Tying for first were Iran and China, but coming in third, ahead of Russia, North Korea and Pakistan, was the U.S. itself. We’ve looked in the mirror and discovered we’re our own worst enemy.”

Jake McIntosh, senior political science major, said the discussion was beneficial to students because it will be them and future generations who will be faced with the repercussions of the debt.

“There’s a necessity for bipartisan support and a bipartisan solution if we’re going to solve this debt problem,” McIntosh said. “We need a variety of different points of view. One ideology can’t solve this problem.”

Lori Taylor, director of the Mosbacher Institute, said she believed the event was a success in accomplishing the institute’s goals.

“I think it was a total success,” Taylor said. “The invited speakers did a wonderful job of laying out the issues for us and entertaining us as they educated us and scared the living daylights out of us, all at the same time. I think it met all of our pedagogical goals of helping our students understand the world in which they’re going to work.”

Taylor said students can take away several good lessons from the work of Bowles and Simpson.

“I think the speakers made the very important point that compromise is not a dirty word and that good governance requires the ability to compromise,” she said. “Students need to make their voices known, make their opinions heard, but they need to be willing to listen to all sides.”

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