Despite the "epic failure" of the congressional "super committee," there is still support in Congress for a "go-big" deficit-reduction plan if the business community will push for it, Aetna Chief Executive Mark Bertolini said Tuesday.
"We needed $4.5 trillion to $5 trillion to get the economy started and to get jobs back in the private sector, and these guys couldn’t come up with $1.2 trillion, which is really the downpayment. They whiffed on it completely," he told CNBC, referring to the super committee charged with cutting $1.2 trillion over 10 years.
The committee's failure now triggers automatic across-the board cuts, including to the military.
Bertolini, a member of the CEO Coalition, said there are 45 senators and 100 representatives who could support a plan along the lines of the Simpson-Bowlesrecommendations.
That panel, led by former senator Alan Simpson and former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, recommended reforming the tax code, cutting entitlement spending, and other measures to bring down the deficit, the type of "balanced solution" Bertolini said is needed. The panel's recommendations were never formally approved after 10 months of study in 2010.
"I think the business community needs to keep going. We need the solution now, not a year from now, and we need to work with [Congress] to get something on the table," Bertolini said. "Between a courageous Congress…[and] through strong support of the business community and [an] educated American public, we can get this done."
Even in an election year? Yes, said the Aetna CEO.
"I think people are looking for the economy to get restarted and to get more jobs, and that’s not happening," he added. "Businesses are on the sideline trying to figure out how this economy is going to work. Until we see that, until we can get a partnership where we know the deficit is going to get under control, we can’t really invest fully the way we can."