CHARLESTON - America is headed toward a major economic crisis if political leaders can't come together and resolve issues regarding federal spending, former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former U.S. senator Alan Simpson warned West Virginians Monday.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., hosted the first "Bipartisan Federal Fiscal Summit" at the State Cultural Center in Charleston. Bowles and Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, were the featured speakers, and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., also joined the discussion.
In 2010, Simpson and Bowles served as chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, charged with finding a way to lower the gross domestic product deficit. They determined spending cuts and tax increases would be needed, as would across-the-board cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security and defense spending. The plan was overwhelmingly rejected by House members.
Photo by Joselyn King
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., left, former Wyoming senator Alan Simpson, center, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles take questions during a fiscal summit Monday in Charleston.
"If we don't get these members of Congress to put politics ... aside, we face the most formidable economic crisis in history," Bowles said. "Fortunately, for all of us, it is also the most avoidable in history."
All revenue taken in last year by the federal government was put toward paying down the interest on the federal debt or geared toward "mandatory spending" on entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, Bowles said.
"What does that mean?" he asked. "That means last year, every dollar we spent on wars, on national defense, on national security, on education, infrastructure, research - every single dollar of it was borrowed, and half of it was borrowed from foreign countries."
Bowles said most federal tax dollars typically are funneled to one of four areas - health care, national defense, the interest paid on federal debt or as a result of an "uncompetitive" federal tax code. He said by 2020, a third of the U.S. budget will be spent on health care.
"Any of you in this room who don't believe those 32 million people without health insurance don't get health care, you're wrong," he said. "They get health care. They just get it at the emergency room at five to seven times the cost at a doctor's office. And who pays for it? You do" through higher insurance costs and taxes.
Bowles, a former aide to President Clinton, suggested the greatest threat to national security is the annual compound interest being paid toward the federal debt - which he said accounts for $250 billion in federal spending each year. Bowles noted this is more than is spent each year by the federal departments of Commerce, Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior and State combined.
He criticized the federal tax code, noting "you could not dream up a stupider one if you tried." The Bowles-Simpson Plan recommends simplifying the tax code.
Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, said America spends $750 billion a year on defense, while the next 15 countries spend $540 billion combined. He suggested closing 61 schools on military bases, saying children who live there can be bused to a public school facility. He also recommended shutting down 81 military bases in Europe.
Simpson also referred to the nation's 24 million veterans and noted "about 10 percent of them" never saw military action but still receive the same benefits as those who did.
He added that while the nation's life expectancy has risen to 78 years, the age to receive Social Security has not been moved forward. The Bowles-Simpson plan suggests raising the age to receive Social Security benefits to 68 before the year 2050.
Manchin said he wishes voters would ask candidates this year what they are doing to be bipartisan and work with their colleagues in Washington.
"Even though we might disagree, we can sit down and work out our differences," Manchin said. "When you sit somebody down and don't villanize people. ... You get something done, and that's good for West Virginia."
Capito is co-chairwoman of the House Civility Caucus, which includes 18 members of the 435-member chamber. She added that about 170 members belong to the Wine Caucus.
"This does illustrate that we have to demonstrate civility more than just talk about it," Capito said.