As former chairmen and chairwomen of the Council of Economic Advisers, who have served in Republican and Democratic administrations, we urge that the Bowles-Simpson report, “The Moment of Truth,” be the starting point of an active legislative process that involves intense negotiations between both parties.There are many issues on which we don’t agree. Yet we find ourselves in remarkable unanimity about the long-run federal budget deficit: It is a severe threat that calls for serious and prompt attention.
While the actual deficit is likely to shrink over the next few years as the economy continues to recover, the aging of the baby-boom generation and rapidly rising health care costs are likely to create a large and growing gap between spending and revenues. These deficits will take a toll on private investment and economic growth. At some point, bond markets are likely to turn on the United States — leading to a crisis that could dwarf 2008.
“The Moment of Truth” documents that “the problem is real, and the solution will be painful.” It is tempting to act as if the long-run budget imbalance could be fixed by just cutting wasteful government spending or raising taxes on the wealthy. But the facts belie such easy answers.
The commission’s recommendations for slowing the growth of government health care expenditures — the central cause of our long-run deficits — are incomplete. It proposes setting spending targets and calls for a process to suggest further reforms if the targets aren’t met. But it also lays out a number of concrete steps, like increasing the scope of the new Independent Payment Advisory Board and limiting the tax deductibility of health insurance.
To be sure, we don’t all support every proposal here. ...
Yet we all strongly support prompt consideration of the commission’s proposals. The unsustainable long-run budget outlook is a growing threat to our well-being. Further stalemate and inaction would be irresponsible.