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Bowles: Congress must 'face up' to deficit issue

Posted November 15, 2010 7:28 a.m. EST
Updated November 15, 2010 7:22 p.m. EST

— The co-chairman of President Barack Obama's deficit reduction commission said Monday that Congress has to "face up" to a red-ink problem that threatens America's future.

Democrat Erskine Bowles told ABC's "Good Morning America" that he and Republican co-chairman Alan Simpson recommended sharp spending cuts because "the path we're on is unsustainable. The debt we are building up is like a cancer."

"We face the most predictable economic crisis in history. We can't stay on the path we are on," Bowles told WRAL News following a meeting in Chapel Hill of the North Carolina Military Foundation. "I think everybody in Washington realizes that, and so they've been looking for someone to come and honestly tell the truth – how can we address the problems? That's what we tried to do."

The pair endorsed a series of proposals, including slashing the federal work force, reducing the tax deduction on home mortgage interest, cutting the defense budget and raising the gas tax and other taxes, to slash the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade.

"The problems are real, the solutions are painful and it's going to take shared sacrifice to really get to a conclusion," Bowles said.

The proposal that got the most attention involved changes to the Social Security system, such as raising the retirement age. The plan would gradually shift the age for people to start collecting payments from the system from 65 to 69.

"We have to address the long-term solvency of Social Security," Bowles said. "There's no question that Social Security runs out of money in 2037, and it goes cash negative in just five years."

Obama initially was noncommittal, calling for a close review of the report, but the recommendations drew harsh criticism from members of both parties.

"We've had positive and negative responses from lawmakers on both sides. I think everybody believes that what we put forward is a very serious proposal, that it makes a lot of good common sense," Bowles said.

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan said she would wait for the final report before making any decisions.

"We have serious problems in our country. We are out of money. We have got to come together, Democrats and Republicans, and make some really tough choices," said Hagan, a North Carolina Democrat. "This report lays out a lot of areas that we can really begin an earnest debate on."