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Deficit Reduction Must Address Big Three

Carolyn Kaster/AP

At an event at The George Washington University on Tuesday, former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and Jared Bernstein, former chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, both agreed that no discussion about reducing the debt and deficit is serious without addressing the big three: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

“Every penny that came in last year to the United States…went only to [those] three things,”  Simpson said. “When somebody comes up on their hind legs in this election and says, ‘I can get this done without touching precious Medicare, precious Medicaid, precious Social Security and precious defense,’ those people are fake, total phonies.”

Simpson was co-chairman of President Obama's deficit reduction committee, the Simpson-Bowles commission. The commission’s plan would lower 2013–2022 projected budget deficits by $6.3 trillion and tackle large structural budget issues.

The commission’s plan came up during Wednesday’s presidential debate when moderator Jim Lehrer asked the candidates if they supported Simpson-Bowles.

“I have my own plan,” Republican nominee Mitt Romney said. “It's not the same as Simpson-Bowles. But in my view, the president should have grabbed it. If you wanted to make some adjustments to it, take it, go to Congress, fight for it.”

“That's what we've done,” responded Obama, “made some adjustments to it, and we're putting it forward before Congress right now.”

The Obama administration has embraced parts of the plan, but not all. Bernstein said that the Obama administration’s proposed fiscal 2013 budget clearly reflected the influence of Simpson-Bowles.

“If you actually look at the budget that the president submitted in 2013, it takes a lot from Bowles-Simpson, maybe not enough for Simpson himself…but it takes a lot from Bowles-Simpson,” Bernstein said. “That budget has considerable Medicare and Medicaid savings in it…It actually cuts hundreds of billions from Medicare. So, there are a lot of Democrats who [are taken] way out of their comfort zone.”

Simpson, who feels the president hasn’t gone far enough and needs to talk more about reforms to Social Security, pleaded for politicians to get serious about fixing the debt and deficit.

“People are so sick and tired of BS and mush,” said Simpson. “They’re thirsting for truth, and somebody’s gotta tell them that.”

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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