Erskine Bowles listens as former Sen. Alan Simpson speaks before the Joint… (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters )
Budget rock stars converged on the congressional "super committee" with a sobering tough love message as the panel struggles to find common ground on a $1.5-trillion deficit reduction plan.
"I'm worried you're going to fail," said Erskine Bowles, the former Clinton administration official and co-chairman of President Obama's fiscal commission.
The quartet of budget hawks -- including fiscal commission co-chairman Alan Simpson, the former Republican senator -- urged the super committee to go beyond its mandate and reduce deficits along the lines of the proposals they have offered for more than $4 trillion.
The experts urged super committee members to worry less about the political climate than the economic harm that would come from rattling credit rating firms and financial markets with failure to reach agreement by the Nov. 23 deadline.
"People admire guts and courage," Simpson said. "They may fight you. They may vilify you. They will admire you."
The super committee is struggling to find a way out of its deadlock: Republicans are unwilling to consider new taxes; Democrats have offered to cut Medicare and other entitlements but only if the GOP allows new tax revenues.
The budget hawks suggested a way around the impasse by assigning congressional committees to take on tax and entitlement changes in the months ahead, rather than trying to rewrite vast legislative codes by Thanksgiving.
But the experts warned that sacred cows would have to go. Simpson particularly called out GOP activist Grover Norquist's objection to closing tax loopholes as a way to raise tax revenue; most Republicans in Congress have signed a pledge with Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform not to raise taxes.
"We could get the violin out," Simpson said. "The fun and games is over."