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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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I hear the issue of entitlements brought up all the time but I don't ever seem to hear what I think many people are really thinking. I think I speak for the middleclass AND those in poverty AND perhaps even many upper income Americans when I say, WE LIKE OUR ENTITLEMENTS! And we want to keep them. And not just stripped down shells of them. We want them for ourselves and our parents and grandparents and for our kids in the future. Why is nobody shouting this out from the rooftops? We want to keep them and we are willing to pay more to keep them if that is necessary. We'll pay more and we want our employers and fellow citizens to share the cost. PLEASE can somebody frame the issue this way. What if we keep entitlements as is and build into them protections for future cost of living increases? Just tell us how much it will cost. Noboy is saying how much it would cost. They're just generalizing that that entitlements are unsustainable. Tell us how much it will cost to sustain them and then let all the people decide what they want to do with them.

This guy is old enough he should be able to tell it like it is. In order to call sequester an actual cut, you've have to be able to show that the budget was actually a smaller number next year, but of course it isn't. All we;'re talking about is a slow down in the rate of GROWTH in spending, and they'll making all this noise about it. The reason you need to start now is because they will never start if you don't. Politicians who are incentived to only the short term will NEVER cut. The rest of us, especially the ones with children care about the future because it's forever.

The quoted formula in the interview was $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue. The fiscal cliff deal adde $617 billion in revenue over 10 years, the sequestration removes $1.2 trillion in spending over 10 years, so all the politicians need to do is add another $651 billion in spending cuts, and move al the cuts from discretionary to welfare for the elderly, I mean entitlements, and we will be well on our way to the bipartisan solution that Democrats and Republicans are too cowardly to enact.

This was great! Sand good for you Kai for sticking to the topic and question and not allowing him to digress without at least such digression being obvious.

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