December 23rd, 2010
03:10 PM GMT
New York (CNN) – What does it take to get a conservative politician, liberal economist and billionaire businessman to agree? A crisis - and that is exactly what David Stockman, Jeffrey Sachs and Mort Zuckerman worry the U.S. will face as a result of the $858 billion tax package just passed by Congress.
"It is a racket what is going on in Washington. Here we had a deficit commission, we discussed these issues for months and all of the sudden the President and the Republicans get together and there’s another trillion dollars given away over 2 years. It’s really shocking stuff actually," says Sachs, a Columbia professor and special adviser to the United Nations.
"These debts essentially are a dagger pointed at the heart of the economy and sooner or later that dagger is going to strike so we now sort of justify this (tax package) in the short run because nobody thinks in the long run," adds real estate magnate Zuckerman.
We invited these three men to Time Warner Center to participate in a year-end discussion on the challenges facing the U.S. economy and, perhaps more importantly, the remedies that should be put in place.
We reached across the political spectrum fully expecting a lively debate and fair amount of disagreement. What we got instead was a surprising amount of consensus and a universal sense of outrage over the lack of political leadership in Washington.
"We have basically two parties, two free lunch parties, competing in a fiscal arena that is non-functional," fumes Stockman the director of the Office of Management and Budget under Ronald Reagan.
Given the bitter partisan bickering that has consumed Washington, Congress may seem like an easy target. But our panelists did not stop there. Stockman spoke out about the casino Wall Street has become and the influence of hedge funds. Sachs railed against Larry Summers for bailing out the banks without any strings attached. And Zuckerman took shots at the rich, for not paying their fair share.
As I listened to the discussion it occurred to me that the U.S. might need to see political change before the country can tackle the massive debt problem. The Tea Party rose to prominence talking about the deficit, but it is unlikely they will appeal to voters in the center or on the left of the political spectrum. We need a consensus builder, someone who can convey a sense of urgency. Massive cuts in defense spending. A national sales tax. Means testing social security. These are not popular ideas and our panelists insist they will be necessary.
Are Americans as a society ready for that reality? I have my doubts, but Jeffrey Sachs who has consulted governments around the world makes a compelling argument. "If the rich were standing up and saying, we do our part, the mood in this society would change enormously. We’d start getting serious again like grown ups and thinking about the real situation in the United States."
My hope for 2011 is that he is right.
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