NORMAN — Although it isn't politically expedient to say so, heading off the nation's looming fiscal crisis will require sacrifices from every American, the co-chairs of the president's bipartisan debt commission said Monday.
Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, co-chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, spoke in the Molly Shi Boren ballroom at the University of Oklahoma. The commission was assembled to find policies to improve the nation's medium- and long-term fiscal situation.
At the end of 2010, the commission released its final report, a 10-year plan to cut the budget deficit by $4 trillion. Although supported by both Democrats and Republicans, the report did not win the commission's endorsement.
The $4 trillion reduction comes from a combination of $1 trillion in increased tax revenue and $3 trillion in spending cuts. Striking a balance between spending cuts and increased revenue is the only effective way to tackle the crisis, Bowles said.
Although most lawmakers recognize that cuts in services will be necessary, they're hamstrung by their constituents who depend on those services, said Simpson, former U.S. senator from Wyoming. When the commission proposed making changes to Social Security, he said, it drew the ire of the AARP.
Bowles, who was White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration, said the plan wouldn't eliminate Social Security benefits. But changes are necessary to make the program sustainable.
“We're not trying to balance the budget on Granny's back,” Bowles said.
Social Security represents one of the five major challenges that stands in the way of fiscal solvency, Bowles said, with the others being health care, military spending, an ineffective tax code and the interest paid on debt.
Military spending presents a particular problem, he said. The United States bears a disproportionate responsibility for world peace, he said, and the nation spends more on national defense than the 27 next largest nations combined.
“I don't think we can afford to be the world's policeman,” Bowles said.
OU President David Boren said he is optimistic about Americans' willingness to make sacrifices.
“We're patriotic Americans,” he said. “We're ready to make sacrifices as long as we're in the same boat together.”