Power Players: Bipartisan Budget Solutions

Common Ground: Sam Nunn

When Georgia’s former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn speaks, people listen, especially on matters of defense.

Here’s his sobering take on the link between national defense and the economy. “Our fiscal and economic challenges are our biggest security and foreign policy problems,” he says. “Our economic/fiscal policy is not sustainable to say the least; it’s irresponsible and dangerous.”

Those are strong words coming from a man considered one of the most astute members of the Senate before he left office in 1996 after a 24-year career. Nunn isn’t one to throw around words like “irresponsible” or “dangerous” unless he really believes them, or without proposing a solution.

To that end, Nunn and former Congressional colleagues from both sides of the aisle have created Strengthening of America – Our Children’s Future, a joint initiative from policy organizations including The Concord Coalition, The Bipartisan Policy Center and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). 

The group presented four forums prior to the presidential debates to educate citizens, raise questions and pose bipartisan solutions to America’s long-term fiscal challenges, the national security implications of the debt, pro-growth tax reform and entitlement and healthcare costs.

“The second but just as important goal is to show people that even in a very bitter, partisan election year that Republicans and Democrats can and must work together,” says Nunn. “The old axiom is, ‘If you’re in a hole, quit digging.’ On fiscal matters both parties are continuing to dig, and the hole is just getting bigger. The only way out of this set of challenges we face is to have [both parties] working together. That’s probably going to be after the election.”

Nunn hopes his group will encourage and streng-then what he calls the “com-mon sense middle.”

“The left wings and the right wings are flapping, but the fuselage is missing,” he says. “The common sense middle is not very assertive. That’s got to change politically. I would tell the people on the right who say you shouldn’t have any more revenue and the people on the left who say you shouldn’t do anything about entitlements that they have an obligation to show how the arithmetic works with their premise being in effect. They can’t do it, and it’s completely irresponsible.”

Had he been in office, Nunn says he would have endorsed the recommendations put forth by Simpson-Bowles, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, named for commission co-chairs former senator Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, former White House chief of staff.

The commission was convened in 2010 by President Barack Obama to examine mid-term fiscal policies to achieve long-term economic sustainability. Nunn approves of a similar report made by former Senator Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin, former White House budget director and Federal Reserve vice-chair.

Both reports recommend careful combinations of economic stimulus and budget cutting, requiring give and take from both parties.

“While a lot of trimming needs to be done in all areas of the budget, the heart of the fiscal problem is the cost of healthcare going up plus the number of people eligible to receive Medicare and Medicaid.”

Nunn concedes it’s a huge task. “We got into this situation over 20 to 30 years, and we’re going to get out of it over 10 to 20 years. We won’t get out of it in one or two,” he says.

He suggests Congress implement a combination of Simpson-Bowles and Domenici-Rivlin as the default position in the upcoming lame duck session, “giving [Congress] perhaps six months to come in and make changes,” he says. “If they fail to make changes, you would default to a responsible and soft landing rather than going over the cliff.”

A key goal of Strengthen-ing of America is supporting those senators and representatives seeking the common ground. “Right now both political parties appear to have a political strategy but no governing strategy,” says Nunn.

“The only way that’s going to change in a democracy like ours is if the public rises up and demands responsibility from their elected representatives, senators and President.”

Categories: Power Players