RALEIGH, N.C. — Two former governors, other North Carolina politicians and business leaders on Tuesday joined a nationwide effort to cut America's $16 trillion national debt.
"We need reform," former GlaxoSmithKline Chief Executive Bob Ingram, who is co-chairman of Fix the Debt North Carolina, said during a news conference. "If we don't address the debt, our country will suffer dramatic repercussions."
The group also includes former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt and former Republican Gov. Jim Holshouser, as well as Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane and Durham Mayor Bill Bell.
The North Carolina effort is part of the national Campaign to Fix the Debt backed by more than 300,000 business and political leaders. It was founded by former Republican Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles of Charlotte, the former president of the University of North Carolina. They were the co-chairmen of a national commission that assembled a debt-cutting blueprint.
The so-called fiscal cliff that the U.S. faces at the end of the year, with mandatory across-the-board federal budget cuts and the expiration of various tax cuts does "too much too soon and focuses on the wrong parts of the budget," Ingram said.
Instead, he and others called for a bipartisan agreement that would avoid the cliff and address the nation's long-term debt problem.
"Everyone gives up something for the country we love," he said.
Almost 300,000 people have signed online petitions calling for a debt deal. Ingram said building such grassroots support through the Fix the Debt effort will show President Barack Obama and members of Congress that good policy would also be safe politically.
Holshouser said the process would be painful, but it's necessary to avoid the drastic austerity measures and threat of default that Greece, Spain and other countries have gone through in recent years.
Hunt said the plan needs to balance cuts with new revenue, which can be achieved only through compromise.
"What I think we must do is to go big," Hunt said. "We can't just temporize with this thing – little bitty steps. We need a big step now. We've got to bring the country back."