Cut Smart, Replace 'Stupid Stuff,' Says Debt Hawk Bowles

Erskine Bowles, former co-chair of the president's debt commission, told CNBC on Wednesday that a "Grand Bargain" on deficit reduction is "on life-support," with the chances of reaching one "north of zero" percent. He added that he remained hopeful, however, and would keep pushing for compromise.

Bowles, a Democrat, and his Republican debt-cutting partner Alan Simpson are proposing a new road map to achieve $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction through 2023, in part by replacing the "stupid stuff" like the broad-based, automatic spending cuts of "the sequester."

"If we want this economy to grow," Bowles said in a "Squawk Box" interview, "we gotta reform the tax code. … We've gotta to slow the rate of growth of health-care spending. We need to make Social Security sustainably solvent."

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While there's been some progress in the two and a half years since the debt commission made its final recommendations, he said it's not enough.

"We have done about $2.7 trillion worth of deficit reduction. We've done easy stuff, the politically easy stuff," Bowles said. "How hard is it to cap discretionary spending and not tell anyone what you're going to cut? How hard is it to raise taxes on rich people?"

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"They've all done the stupid stuff, 'the sequester.' What they haven't done is gotten serious and done any of the hard stuff," he said. "The hard stuff is reforming the tax code and reducing the spending we need to reduce in the entitlement programs."

Despite his criticism of the president in the past, Bowles said that Barack Obama deserves credit for releasing a budget plan that goes after things "that are dear to Democrats." The president has proposed $400 billion of cuts in health care in the way Republicans support, Bowles explained.

"That, combined with the chained-CPI, which will make Social Security more sustainably solvent … [and] some reforms he has in the corporate tax rate … give me hope we can actually get a deal done," he concluded.

By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere; Follow him on Twitter @Matt_SquawkCNBC