By Sarah Trefethen
This election season, Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff Erskine Bowles is out on the stump, not for a candidate, but for a number: $4 trillion.
That’s the amount the co-chairman of the Simpson-Bowles commission says the United States must reduce its operating deficit over the next decade in order to stabilize the national debt.
The current levels of federal deficits, Bowles said at a CoreNet event at the Grand Hyatt last week, “are like a cancer, and they will destroy this country from within.”
Bowles called on assembled CoreNet members to pressure elected officials to reject partisanship and turn their attention to the “fiscal cliff” of tax and spending cuts scheduled to take effect in January.
“Three months from now, we have $2 trillion of economic events that are going to hit America right in the gut,” Bowles said. “And what are we doing about it? Nothing.”
Neither President Barack Obama nor his republican challenger, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, has presented budget plans that meet the target of a $4 trillion deficit reduction, he said.
Bowles’ career has ranged from the Clinton White House to private investment firms and a stint as president of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has an MBA from Columbia University and currently serves on the boards of Morgan Stanley, Belk, Inc., Facebook Inc. and Norfolk Southern Corporation.
These days, Bowles is working with a bipartisan group of activists to present congress with a budget reform bill based on the findings of the Simpson-Bowles commission, a 2010 panel led by Bowles and Wyoming Republican Alan Simpson. The Campaign to Fix the Debt is led by Simpson, Bowles, former Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH,) former Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania (D,) and a number of other business leaders and former lawmakers.
“We’re making progress with no help from the leadership of either party,” Bowles said. He called on his audience to sign an online petition at his organization’s website, and to encourage the employees of their companies to do the same. When meeting with congressional candidates and at fundraising events, he said, they should ask about the candidate’s stand on deficit reduction. With half the national debt coming from lenders overseas, he said, the stakes are high.
“I know we can do this,” he said. “But if we don’t, we’re well on our way to becoming a second-rate power.”Bowles spoke for over an hour, including a period of questions and answers. At the end of his appearance he received a standing ovation.
“This is important information that we as real estate professionals need to get our arms around,” said Lou Nowikas of the Hearst Corporation, the president-elect of CoreNet’s New York chapter.
He later added: “everyone’s so concerned about the election, but it’s the day after the election that matters.”