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CNN: Listen Up, Washington; We've Been There

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Along with most Americans, I'm frustrated and frankly disgusted by what is going on in Washington right now. Our leaders have known for many months now that the debt limit would need to be increased. My pal Erskine Bowles and I have been warning Americans for over a year that our nation is on an unsustainable fiscal course.

And yet here we are, days away from a potential default and we still haven't increased the debt limit or taken any meaningful action to deal with our growing and gnawing debt.

We simply cannot afford gridlock and delay as each party stubbornly holds out for its "ideal solution." We also can't afford watered down mush where each side agrees to leave the other guy's priorities untouched. The only way to solve our fiscal crisis is through a bipartisan agreement where everyone prods their own sacred cows into the cattle chute, and everyone gives up something they like to protect the country they love.

In the end Congress will find a way to muddle through the current debt limit crisis, in part by promising to deal with the debt later. But promises won't cut it with the American public or with our creditors anymore. There's talk about creating a special committee to come up with a plan to reduce the deficit. That sounds familiar.

But if they are serious and honest, they'll come to the same conclusion we did on the Fiscal Commission -- that the solution requires some damn tough choices across the budget, cutting spending in defense, domestic spending, entitlements and spending in the tax code. What we need is not more plans, but the political will to act on them.

Fortunately, there are six Senators, three from each party, who have shown the guts and courage to provide leadership to get something done. They are: Democrats Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Mark Warner of Virginia, and Republicans Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Mike Crapo of Idaho and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. This Gang of Six has been working on a bipartisan plan based on that of the Fiscal Commission, and they have found many other senators willing to support the plan because it asks for sacrifices from everyone.

Whatever promises are made about coming up with deficit reduction later must be backed up by guaranteeing a vote on the Gang of Six plan if leaders fail to follow through on coming up with a budget plan. Senators would be forced to stand up and say whether they are willing to put the national interest ahead of special interests, whether they are willing to put the oath they took to defend the constitution and our republic ahead of pledges to special interest groups.

As soon as the Gang of Six came out with its plan, the slings and arrows started zooming in from both sides. Yet that is the strength of the plan. Everyone would have "skin in the game." The best fiscal plan -- a plan of the magnitude necessary to right our fiscal ship and of the balance necessary to draw enough bipartisan support to actually be enacted -- is the one that offends the most folks on both sides.

So regardless of what happens in the coming days with the debt limit, I ask all of you who care so much about our nation's future; I say, just pray for the Gang of Six!

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Jul 29, 2011
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CNN invited prominent former leaders and policymakers to offer their advice on the debt crisis standoff in Washington, including Moment of Truth co-chair Alan Simpson.