On Sunday, independent candidate for Maine Senate Angus King held a town-hall style forum on national debt with special guest Erskine Bowles for a conversation on the economy and some clear implications of economic policy on higher education.
Bowles makes it clear that any plan to fix the economy must include both cuts and investments. ”We must invest in education, infrastructure, and high-value research and development to help our economy grow, keep us globally competitive, and make it easier for businesses to create jobs.” Likewise, King’s website lists student loan reform and affordable access to education as some of his campaigns key issues. King partially blames the slow economic recovery on the increased burden of debt on our students. ”For the first time in history, our college graduates are so burdened with student debt that they may not be able to start innovative businesses, or buy their first homes – this is slowing our economic recovery. College graduates make up a segment of our population that should be driving our economic recovery, and we must find real solutions to this crisis.”
When asked to juxtapose his plan with the Romney-Ryan plan Bowles said he would support any budget, as long as it was balanced. ”If you have a plan with no revenue, and you also have a plan with a huge increase to military spending, it means the cuts you have to make are in the areas we must invest in if we are going to be competitive in this knowledge based global economy. The cuts are just so deep, thats in things like education, infrastructure, roads, highways, bridges. Those types of things we’d have to cut so deep that I’m afraid America will not be able to compete for the jobs of the future.”
Moment of Truth
Bowles’ pleasant southern charisma makes him an easy man to talk to and leaves no questions as to how he’s become such a bipartisan powerhouse in national politics since the ’90s. As President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff he helped broker a controversial 1996 budget deal between the White House and Congress. In 2010 he was again called on, this time by President Obama, to co-chair the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform along with former Republican Senator Alan Simpson. The result was the Simpson-Bowles Plan, also known as the Moment of Truth Project.
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), publicly held debt soared to $9 trillion or approximately 63% of the GDP in 2010 since its 2008 level of 40%. This is an issue being discussed by every candidate in every state, though few candidates have openly supported a particular plan. In a New York Times contribution dated August 29th, Bowles wrote, “The real short-term risk to the economy isn’t a carefully thought-out deficit reduction plan, but the mindless spending cuts and tax increases — known as the “fiscal cliff” — that are scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of next year.” When asked why few politicians fully back any of the recently proposed budget plans with specificity, Bowles said, “the problems are real, the solutions are painful, and there is no easy way out.” He says too many politicians are worshipping that “great-god of re-election” while ignoring what is truly in the country’s best interests. Our present economic system is demanding attention and inviting Bowles to speak showed Angus King’s willingness to discuss a critical issue that even President Obama has avoided taking a firm stance on.
In a March interview with Charlie Rose, Bowles and co-chair Al Simpson expressed their disappointment in Obama’s rejection of the report. They explain the report met, and in some cases exceeded, all of the requirements set by the Obama administration and the bipartisan commission on fiscal responsibility. ”He believed, and rightfully so that if he had embraced [the plan] it would have had less chance of success than if he distanced himself from it,” Bowles said of the president.
Can we turn things around?
Bowles says we have two choices to make, we can either make changes now or we can wait for the market to force us to. “We are headed for the most predictable economic crisis in history, however it is also one of the most avoidable,” Bowles said in his opening statement. He outlined the 5 challenges Governor King would face, in order, if he were elected: 1. Healthcare and unsustainable commitments to medicare and medicaid, 2. the debt 3. a tax code which he says “couldn’t be worse if we tried to make it that way” 4. the $900 Billion negative balance in social security and 5. the potential disaster posed by compound interest were interest rates to rise.
King and Bowles do not agree on everything, and while Bowle’s openly supported King’s Senate bid it was unclear as to whether or not King would support the Simpson-Bowles plan in it’s entirety. King acknowledged in an interview before the forum that the economy, jobs and controlling the debt were his biggest challenges if elected. ”It’s a long term national security issue and a long term economic issue,” he said. Bowles expressed his desire for Maine to send Washington a “damn strong independent,” someone to bridge the partisan divide as Senator Snowe has done in the past.
One thing that both Bowles and King reiterated was the commitment to future generations and a refusal to play “partisan football” with their quality of life. Bowles finished his opening remarks by saying “I came here, not just because I love Angus King, or not just because coming to Maine is such a joy to me. I came here to try and get you to think about this, and think about these issues.”