BOWLES: If we don’t solve the debt problem, we will be paying $1 trillion in interest in 2020. That’s money we can’t spend on Social Security, Medicare, education, infrastructure, or innovation to make sure America is competitive in a global economy. This debt is like a cancer growing within the country. To fix it, we’ve got to make decisions that are politically tough.
SIMPSON: When I was appointed, I heard, “Simpson, you’ve lost your marbles. You’re carrying water for Obama.” That’s not true. We told the President that everything has to be on the table, including his health-care plan. He said, “I’m with you to the hilt.”
How do you reconcile Democratic and Republican commissioners?
BOWLES: It’s really hard. We could end up walking away with nothing. But we are working together to come up with a commonsense solution. In ‘97, there wasn’t a soul who believed we could balance the budget, but we did.
What specifically do you think the commission will accomplish?
BOWLES: We have two charges: to reduce the deficit by $240 billion a year by 2015 and to deal with entitlements for the long-term fiscal health of the country. We’re looking at how we can reduce discretionary spending—things like education, transportation, the military, homeland security—and mandatory spending, which includes Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. We also need to raise revenue.
SIMPSON: No one’s out to get the lesser in society, but there won’t be anything for them unless we get a handle on Medicare and Medicaid.
Are you willing to recommend cuts to Social Security?
SIMPSON: We’re not going to cut Social Security—we’re going to stabilize it. None of the ideas that have been presented will affect anyone over age 58. But we’re going to make the system work. As it is, it can’t sustain itself.
Does Congress have the political courage to act on your proposals?
BOWLES: If we get 14 out of 18 members of the commission to agree on any of the recommendations, Sen. (Harry) Reid has promised to bring them to the floor for an up-or-down vote. And if it passes in the Senate…
SIMPSON: …the Speaker (of the House, Nancy Pelosi) has said she’ll do the same.
BOWLES: We’re going to work our hearts out to succeed.
Yep, that’s what we’re afraid of.