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Bowles tells Bridges audience that fiscal responsibility is a must

Erskine Bowles says the U.S. deficit is like a cancer that will destroy the country from within.

Bowles — a former White House chief of staff — spoke to a crowd of more than 1,300 people at DU’s Magness Arena Oct. 10 as the first speaker in the 2011–12 Bridges to the Future season.

His talk, “American Politics and Issues: The Economic Outlook,” addressed the work he did in 2010 as co-chair of the Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

“We cannot solely grow our way out of this,” Bowles said of the deficit. “We cannot solely tax our way out of this and we can’t solely cut our way out of it.”

Bowles said he and his co-chair on the commission, former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, tried to make recommendations that were reasonable, responsible and bi-partisan. Their goal was to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years.

In order to do that, Bowles said Congress had to get serious about budget cuts, including cutting Social Security and military spending.

“We spend more on our defense than the next 14 largest countries combined,” he said. “We need to take strong steps to reduce military spending; we cannot afford to be the world’s policeman.”

Bowles also said the United States has to reform its tax code.

“How can you net so little when tax rates are so high?” he asked. The answer, he said, is that the government gives $1.1 trillion in tax credits — equal to the amount it collects. Bowles suggested eliminating those credits.

Bowles said he was disappointed in what Congress has done to date.

“I wanted these guys to go big or go home,” he said. “I wanted them to do their job.”

Bowles says he believes Congress can fix the problem, but they have to work together and put partisanship aside. He asked the crowd to talk to their senators and congressmen to work on long-term fiscal responsibility.

“We’ve got to come together and address these big problems or we’ll be a second-rate power in my lifetime,” he said.

In the 1990s, Bowles served as head of the Small Business Administration, deputy chief of staff and chief of staff for President Bill Clinton. As chief of staff, he was a pivotal negotiator in passing America’s first balanced budget in decades. He also served as president of the University of North Carolina from 2005–10.

The theme for the 2011–12 Bridges to the Future lecture series is “Undercurrents of the 2012 Election.” The next speaker is Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of policy planning for the State Department. Slaughter will speak Feb. 2 in the Newman Center for the Performing Arts. Check the Bridges site closer to the event to RSVP.

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