The federal government is unable to erase its massive budget deficit because it's plagued by a deep, self-serving partisanship in Congress that's fueled by special interests like anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, according to the former chairmen of President Obama's deficit reduction commission.
"We need folks here in Washington to wake up and put this partisanship aside," said Erskine Bowles, a former chief of staff for then-President Clinton. "We face the most predictable economic crisis in history ... which is also the most avoidable crisis in history. These trillion-dollar deficits, they are like a cancer, and they are going to destroy this country from within."
Bowles and Alan Simpson, a Republican and former senator from Wyoming, helped author a bipartisan plan to restrain the nation's $16 trillion debt, only to have it rejected on Capitol Hill.
The plan, which recommended a mix of spending cuts and tax increases, was killed off because too many lawmakers refuse to compromise for fear of endangering their re-election prospects, Bowles and Simpson told a group of George Washington University students while taping the Colorado-based "Aaron Harber Show." The show will be available to Comcast customers through the network's On Demand service.
Simpson slammed special interests, including Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform who persuaded nearly every Republican in Congress to sign a pledge saying they will never raises taxes, for throwing the entire economy into peril by making "compromise" a dirty word on Capitol Hill.
"The AARP -- these people are nothing but marketers," Simpson said. "And then you've got Grover Norquist wandering the Earth in his white robes. ... These old coots will take care of themselves and they don't care about you."
Simpson also rapped Republicans who believe that defense spending should not be on the cutting board. He singled out spending on contractors and health care for people who never saw a battlefield as funding that should be considered for cuts.
The Bowles-Simpson plan tackles spending in five areas: health care, national defense, the tax code, Social Security and debt interest payments. And Bowles said it's "nuts" for anyone to think the deficit can be erased without a combination of taxes and spending cuts.
"When a Democrat like me comes to tell you, 'Oh, don't worry about this, we can tax our way out of this problem' -- well, raising taxes doesn't do a darn thing to change the demographics of a country or to change the fact that health care is growing at a faster rate than [gross domestic product]," Bowles said. "And as much as I would like to tell you we can just cut our way our of this problem, we can't ... without disrupting what I believe is still a very fragile economic recovery."
Bowles warned of a double-dip recession if Congress fails to break the gridlock over the deficit in time to prevent a series of automatic, massive budget cuts from kicking in this January. "The markets will crush us," he said.
Both men bemoaned the lack of civility and honesty in Washington -- an environment that Simpson repeatedly blamed on people like Norquist, whom he called "totally deceptive."
"It's tough out there," Simpson said. "There's hatred out there. Hatred toward the president. It's not disgust ... it's not shame ... it's hate."