Bowles Says Deficit Report Can't be Sugar-Coated

Deficit reduction commission co-chairman Erskine Bowles says he won't "do a whitewash" on the call for austerity measures merely to get a bipartisan consensus among panelists.

National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform co-chairmen Erskine Bowles, and Alan Simpson.
Scott J. Ferrell | CQ- Roll | Getty Images
National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform co-chairmen Erskine Bowles, and Alan Simpson.

Former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson released recommendations last week calling for steep cuts in Medicare, lifting the Social Security retirement age and increasing taxes, including a 15 percent hike in federal gasoline tax.

The bipartisan commission must still conduct an internal vote on what to present to Congress, and 14 of the 18 members must affirm the recommendations to form a bipartisan endorsement.

Bowles told MSNBC Friday "we're not going to make it softer than it is today" in order to get the necessary 14 votes.

But Bowles and Simpson said they will make public the panel's report on how to balance the U.S. budget even if it doesn't get enough votes from commission members to be submitted to Congress.

The recommendations have drawn skepticism from both sides of the political spectrum, with Republicans rejecting proposed tax hikes and Democrats chafing at prospects for altering the Social Security retirement system or the Medicare and Medicaid healthcare programs for the elderly and poor.

Bowles warned lawmakers not to ignore the recommendations, which also call for defense cuts and a hike in the gasoline tax but would reduce tax rates overall.

"They will be severely penalized if they take a walk and don't make these tough decisions and don't get real," said Bowles, predicting that no meaningful action to reduce the burgeoning deficit would bring "absolute disaster." Voter concern about the federal deficit and mounting U.S. government debt helped Republicans oust the Democrats as the majority party in the House of Representatives in the Nov. 2 elections.

But much of the debate since election day has focused on eliminating spending provisions known as earmarks, cutting waste and fraud, and trimming foreign assistance.

Simpson and Bowles will seek commission approval for their recommendations by Dec. 1.

They said Friday they expect the commission to meet again soon after Congress returns following next week's Thanksgiving holiday.