On a trip to DC this week, I had a chance encounter with Erskine Bowles in National Airport. As you may know, the UNC system president was asked by President Obama to lead an effort to identify opportunities for deficit reduction.
But the executive commission is a weak substitute for what the president really wanted: a panel created by Congress that could force lawmakers to consider unpopular remedies to reduce the debt, including curbing politically sensitive entitlements like Social Security and Medicare.
That bipartisan panel would have delivered lawmakers a deficit reduction blueprint after the November elections that would have been subject to votes before a new Congress convenes next year. But the idea faltered in the Senate, defeated by equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, including some of whom initially supported the idea.
I asked Mr. Bowles how it felt to have another job on top of his demanding role here in North Carolina. He said, "It's part time ... and it's temporary."
For all their deficit whining, it's rather remarkable that no Congressional Republicans would step up to meet the challenge that the President laid out. Not a single damned one of them. It took reaching all the way back to a retired Senator to find an R willing to put his time and energy where his mouth is.
Obama signed the executive order flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican Senate Whip Alan Simpson. He chose Bowles and Simpson to lead the panel, which will be charged with reporting back by the end of this year on what steps Congress and the administration should take to get the deficit down to 3 percent of the gross domestic product, a level that economists believe is manageable.
On Thursday, he send a message to the UNC Board of Governors, saying: "I believe that when the President of the United States believes you can help your Country in a matter of material importance, you have a moral obligation to say 'Yes.'"
Unless you're a Republican, of course. In which case you have a self-serving obligation to say "no."