— NORMAN, Okla. - President Obama and Mitt Romney invoked them last week while arguing over the country's financial crisis.
The names Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles are now synonymous with efforts to reform the federal budget, and with a take-your-medicine message that is perhaps more frank than anything uttered during last week's presidential debate.
"Don't let politicians tell you we can 'grow' out of this," Bowles told University of Oklahoma supporters Monday night. "We can't cut our way out, and we can't just raise taxes. There must be shared sacrifice from everyone."
Simpson said the country's financial crisis is due to a gaping leadership vacuum.
“There is no cost containment in our current legislation, and there never will be, because when it comes down to it the leaders will do nothing,” he said. “We’re stuck in a rut with politicians who play Fred Astaire on steroids on every issue.”
Bowles and Simpson led the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which wrote a plan in December 2010 to cut the federal budget deficit, now $1.1 trillion. The widely criticized report never won enough votes to get the presidential commission's official stamp, but it remains a political prop.
Romney challenged Obama for not fully adopting the plan written by his own commission. Obama countered that he has, in fact, applied many of recommendations to his plans to trim budget deficits by $4 trillion over a decade - a statement widely attacked by fact-checkers.
For their part, Simpson and Bowles challenge the approaches of both Republicans and Democrats. Simpson was a Republican Senator from Wyoming for 18 years. Bowles spent nearly two years as President Clinton's chief of staff.
In a talk to the university's President's Associates, Bowles stressed five challenges to the country's financial stability: health care spending, defense spending, the tax code, Social Security and compound interest.
“Our country faces the most predictable economic crisis in history, and it’s also the most avoidable," he said. "Our deficit is like a cancer, killing this country from within.”
Simpson criticized interest groups, including the American Association of Retired Persons. He called for tort reform, cited issues with Medicare and agreed with Bowles that the Pentagon pours too much money into obsolete military schools and bases.
“Leaders have to take a lot of flack, and that’s what’s gotten us into this situation — leaders trying to please everyone,” he said.
Details for this story were reported by The Norman, Okla., Transcript