The U.S. government must take bolder steps to reduce the national debt, former UNC-system President Erskine Bowles said Thursday in a speech at the University.
Bowles spoke at Gerrard Hall about the nation’s budget deficit and government spending as part of the Thomas Willis Lambeth Distinguished Lectureship in Public Policy.
In 2010, Bowles — who was also chief of staff for President Bill Clinton — was named co-chairman of President Barack Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
The commission’s responsibility was to address the deficit.
“Now that I have familiarized myself with our nation’s finances, I am really worried,” Bowles said. “This deficit is like a cancer. It will destroy our country from within.”
Bowles said the plan the commission presented to the president was developed so it would not hurt the nation’s fragile economy even more.
He said the commission didn’t want to hurt lower-income people when making cuts, so it didn’t encourage cutting programs such as food stamps.
Instead, the commission recommended cuts to military spending.
“I believe that America should not be the world’s policeman,” he said.
But not all of the commission’s recommendations were included in the final deficit bill, which was passed by Congress in August.
“I’m disappointed. I wanted us to do something bold,” Bowles said.
He said Congress’s actions in passing the August bill were “pitiful” and an “embarrassment” to the country.
Bowles said the government needs to reduce its deficit by at least $4 trillion in this decade.
“We didn’t just make up the $4 trillion,” he said. “That number is the minimum that has to be reduced to stabilize the debt.”
The country cannot tax or cut its way out of its financial problems, he said.
This means issues such as Medicare, Medicaid, health care, Social Security and tax reform need to be addressed, Bowles said.
Many students that attended Bowles’ speech said it was nice to hear someone be honest about problems with the nation’s budget.
“I liked how he was persistent about how we need to balance the nation’s budget,” said Rianna Black, a junior at UNC.
Michele Magnuson, a student at N.C. State University, said she liked that Bowles was honest about the budget.
“It was cool to hear a personal account of what happened in Washington,” Magnuson said.
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