Pete Peterson: The man who focused Washington on the national debt

Peter G. Peterson delivers opening remarks during the Peter G. Peterson Foundation 2011 Fiscal Summit at the Mellon Auditorium May 25, 2011 in Washington, D.C.

Talk of debt and deficit drag on Washington in large part because of or thanks to, depending on how you look at it the efforts of one man: Pete Peterson and his 35-year campaign that he financed himself to make debt topic number one.

We put the debate in context yesterday. Today we talked to Pete Peterson himself. And he's not exactly thrilled with the way Republicans and Democrats in Congress have approached the deficit.

"A program like Simpson-Bowles that had about $3 of spending cuts for every dollar of revenue and wanted to tax all the aspects of the budget in which everything is on the table -- and by everything, I mean entitlements, I mean tax reform, I mean defense, are all on the table -- is the right way to approach this problem," said Peterson. "And the Republicans have taken the point of view that you can't raise taxes, and the Democrats are taking the point of view that you can't reform entitlements are ways of blocking meaningful progress."

Peterson says he wouldn't be against the government borrowing more money if it meant investments in infrastructure and education, or in making social safety nets self-sustaining.

But is a long-term solution from Washington likely? "I'm going to keep working until we do, because until we do, we are not talking about the underlying problem that confronts the long-term future."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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