Friday, March 7, 2014
PORTLAND - A leader of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission urged Mainers on Sunday to demand that Congress reduce the nation's debt -- and to elect former Gov. Angus King to the U.S. Senate.
Erskine Bowles, left, former President Clinton’s chief of staff and co-chairman of the federal panel on fiscal responsibility, speaks at a campaign event for Angus King, right, a U.S. Senate candidate, at the University of Southern Maine in Portland on Sunday.
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer
"I'm telling you I can use a bridge like this guy who can go between the two parties," Erskine Bowles said. "It would make such a difference."
Bowles, a Democrat who was President Clinton's chief of staff, said the nation is facing a financial crisis, and partisanship in Congress is preventing compromise on the kinds of spending cuts and tax increases needed to avoid it.
He spoke to about 300 people Sunday afternoon at the University of Southern Maine as part of a "town hall" campaign event for King. Bowles endorsed King to replace Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, in a column published in the Portland Press Herald on Saturday.
"We need people (in Congress) who are going to make the tough choices," Bowles told the audience. "If we don't, we're on a path to becoming a second-rate power before you know it."
Bowles and former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming were appointed by President Obama to lead the bipartisan debt commission. The so-called Simpson-Bowles plan, released last year, called for reducing the national debt by $4 trillion by 2020, mostly through spending cuts, but its recommendations ran into opposition from both parties.
Bowles said the nation's debt, if not cut, will soon reduce economic growth, cause borrowing costs and debt payments to rise and suck even more money away from basic programs and investments in education and health care, he said.
King also said the debt must be a top priority for Congress. "Do nothing and we're Greece within 20 years," he said.
Republicans have criticized King for overseeing growth in state spending during his eight years as governor, and leaving office when revenues were falling and the state faced a nearly $1 billion gap between anticipated income and expenses.
Bowles, however, said King's experience balancing eight budgets as governor makes him well qualified. King would have balanced the ninth budget, too, if he wasn't leaving office, he said. And the fact that King is running as an independent will help break through the partisanship that is preventing action to reduce the debt.
"He knows how to lead and I think he can make an enormous difference," Bowles said. "He balanced the budget every year (while governor). He left a rainy day fund with more money in it than when he got there."
Maine's so-called rainy day fund grew from about $7 million to as much as $143 million under King, according to his campaign staff. The fund was drawn down to $23 million in 2003 to help balance the budget as the economy slowed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
King spoke about when he came into office as governor in 1995 and reduced the state work force by more than 1,000 positions, or 10 percent, because the state was facing a budget gap of about $400,000. He said the federal debt crisis also will require smarter decisions about spending.
"It's going to involve some cuts in spending that people aren't going to like," King said.
King called the Simpson-Bowles commission's plan a good framework, although he doesn't agree with all the recommendations in it. "There are some things I'm not too fond of and in fact some things I don't think I can support," he said, without getting into the details.
(Continued on page 2)