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Government, Politics & Issues

Bipartisan group urges Congress to 'Fix the Debt'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 19, 2012 - Former U.S. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., sees tackling the federal debt as the best way to ignite "growth in the economy" and prevent the stifling of small business.

To former Missouri Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat, addressing the debt is necessary so that there's adequate public money to improve public education and pay for needed bridges and infrastructure.

Despite their political differences, the two are co-chairing the Missouri arm of a national "Fix the Debt" movement.

On Monday, they joined a bipartisan team of major political figures calling on Congress to act on a "comprehensive" and balanced approach to address the national debt.

At a Monday press conference in Jefferson City, Bond and Holden joined Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican; and state Treasurer Clint Zweifel, a Democrat, to launch Missouri’s chapter of “Fix the Debt.”

That’s a national group founded by former Republican U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and former Clinton administration chief of staff Erskine Bowles that describes itself as “a nonpartisan campaign to put America on a better fiscal and economic path.”

"No other issue is as urgent or important to the welfare of our country as addressing both the immediate and long-term debt problems the U.S. currently faces," Bond said in a statement. "The elections are over. Now it’s time for Washington to work together to create solutions, or the economy will tank, jobs will disappear, and small businesses will be hit hard."

(Update) Bond said in an interview later that he "was delighted to work with Bob Holden'' on their common cause.

Bond recalled that he had been involved in a similar effort more than 20 years ago with Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., although he lamented, "You can see how far that went...We didn't have any backup support."

Bond said he is particularly amenable to unsuccessful GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's proposal to impose a limit on tax deductions for wealthier Americans and sees that as a better approach than cutting tax rates.

Holden, meanwhile, said he got involved because "our children's future is at stake." Holden noted that he had formerly been state treasurer and said fiscal issues have long been a key concern.

Both men emphasized that any national solution "must be bipartisan." (End of update)

In addition to including politicians from both parties as supporters, Fix the Debt has received backing from numerous CEOs of major companies, including General Electric, Microsoft, Express Scripts and Time Warner Cable. Fix the Debt spokesman Jon Romano said the group, which has raised tens of millions of dollars since it was launched in July, may embark on a paid media campaign, congressional outreach and a social media blitz to get its message across.

“This is kind of a test of our time for political leaders not only in D.C., but in the states," Romano said. "We believe that by … educating Americans about the need for a comprehensive debt deal, Americans overall will agree that this is a deal that needs to happen.”

Kinder said in a statement that the campaign stands "ready to work with our elected leaders from both sides of the aisle to help make bipartisan deficit reduction a reality.” And Zweifel added in his statement that "the math is simple, it is the politics that are hard."

“And it’s time for Washington to put politics aside," continued Zweifel. "Fifth graders in Missouri can do the math required to fix these problems but it is going to take our politicians getting off the school yard and working together to get things done. This is not a Democrat or Republican problem and there isn’t going to be a Democrat or Republican solution. It’s America’s challenge and our opportunity to show the world why we still continue to lead.”

Miles Ross, a spokesman for Fix the Debt Missouri and a Republican political operative based in southwest Missouri, said the group is seeking to be "Missouri's voice" in federal talks about the so-called "fiscal cliff." That's term used to describe a series of tax increases and spending cuts that would go into effect on Jan. 1, if Congress doesn't act.

Ross said some of the group's elected leaders will encourage Missourians to sign a petition on Fix the Debt's website.

"What we are encouraging Congress to do is to sit down and put everything on the table," Ross said. "There should be no sacred cows. And everybody should be talking about how to do we get to a framework to make a deal happen."

National focus

Fix the Debt was launched earlier this year by Bowles and Simpson, the chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Colloquially known as the “Simpson-Bowles commission,” the commission called for caps in discretionary spending, significant changes to the nation’s tax code and programs such as Medicare or Social Security. The plan fell three votes short of being forwarded to Congress.

Romano said his group’s core principles are similar to what Simpson-Bowles recommended. That, he said, includes reducing spending, restructuring the tax code and making changes to "entitlements" such as Social Security and Medicare.

The Simpson-Bowles plan, though, was not universally popular. Critics argued it should have focused less on reducing overall tax rates and changing benefit structures to Social Security and Medicare. One element of Simpson-Bowles includes gradually raising the age of eligibility for Medicare and Social Security. 

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat who was on the commission, described the plan as being touted by "inside-the-Beltway pundits who think that cutting benefits for seniors who have an average income of $22,000 a year is the type of ‘hard choice’ we need to be making."

Still, Romano said, Simpson-Bowles is a start as congressional leaders deliberate.

“We believe that Simpson-Bowles provides a good framework for such a deal, but it’s only a framework,” Romano said. “We’re really encouraging members of Congress and the president to enact a comprehensive deal. Not to punt. Not to go off the cliff.”

Ross added, "We’re being very careful not to mention one plan or the other" to avoid contaminating the discussion.

"We just want to encourage good and open dialogue for Congress to do something," Ross said. "It’s not that we’re being coy or anything. We want to Congress to figure out what to do and not do. We’ve seen too many times in the past where people have specific proposals and ultimately you have sides that become divided. And what we want Congress to do is figure out for themselves what works and doesn’t work. But we just want to make sure they know Missourians and Americans want something to happen. They want action."

Jo Mannies, Beacon political reporter, contributed information for this article.

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