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Simpson/Bowles: Media, Candidates Avoided 'Fiscal Cliff'

The drafters of a year-old plan to help avoid the fiscal
cliff facing the U.S. economy Friday opined that neither the media nor the
candidates talked about the looming financial crisis during the four
presidential debates. They suggested it was the elephant -- and donkey -- in
the room that everybody avoided.

At a Peterson Foundation financial conference covered by
C-SPAN, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, former cochairs of the president's
National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, talked about the fact
that some of the hard choices they made in coming up with a deficit-reduction plan last October
that made targeted, but tough, cuts were now being looked at more seriously as
the Jan. 1 deadline for a budget deal, or across-the-board
"sequester" cuts.

They also talked about some of those hard choices not being
on the agenda of the presidential candidates and televised debates.

"Isn't it amazing that, during the election, at all
four of the debates, the words fiscal cliff were never, ever mentioned, and not
by the reporters, not by the candidates," said Bowles. "Nor was there
ever mention of the solvency of Social Security or what to do with Medicare,
which is on an unsustainable course. To think that debate took place and nobody
ever got into the two big things that are driving this country into the weeds."

Simpson called their deficit-reduction plan a stink bomb at
a garden party. Nobody liked it, he said, which became clear when the
recommendations were not adopted by Congress, in part because of pushback from
all the affected industries and interest. He said he expected their
"fangs" to come out again now that the Simpson/Bowles plan is not
only getting a fresh look, but some parts may be adopted.

One cut that public broadcasters are hoping remains off the
table is zeroing out federal funding for noncoms, one of the
"painful" cuts the Simpson/Bowles report recommended to achieve big savings (the CBP portion is about
$500 million). Other cuts included reducing funding to the Smithsonian and
National Parks, selling excess federal property, freezing federal salaries, and
cutting the federal work force by 10%.

Bowles said he thought there was still a good chance of
avoiding the fiscal cliff. Simpson was less sanguine, saying he thought
"they will go over the cliff," though he said that would be

Bowles agreed, saying if there is no deal, the country's
credit will be downgraded, the stock market will crash, two million jobs will
be lost, capital expenditures will decline, and consumer confidence will

To watch more of their take on the economic crisis, click here.