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Debt deal a timid baby step

By Alan Simpson, Special to CNN
  • Alan Simpson: Congress avoided default by deciding to deal with the debt later
  • Downgrade in credit rating still possible if we don't go further in tackling debt, Simpson writes
  • He says we must look at Social Security, military spending, tax code, other sacred cows

Editor's note: Alan Simpson, a Republican, is a former senator for Wyoming and co-chaired the Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

(CNN) -- The mountain roared and gave birth to a mouse. Even after taking the country to the brink of economic disaster, our leaders in Washington still could not forge a broad, bipartisan consensus on a plan to stabilize the debt. As I predicted here last week, Congress found a way to muddle through the current debt limit crisis by promising to deal with the debt later.

While I hope we have avoided an immediate downgrade in our credit rating by avoiding a default, the threat of a downgrade hasn't gone away if we don't go a lot further than this deal did in tackling our debt.

The best that can be said about the agreement just enacted, other than preventing a potentially catastrophic default, is that it is a first baby step. The deal did put in place limits on discretionary spending that will force cuts in agency budgets, including the Pentagon. That's encouraging. But it's not enough.

A new bipartisan committee is to be formed with the charge of coming up with an additional $1.5 trillion in savings. But even if members meet this rather modest target, the debt will continue to grow. They need to do a lot more, roughly twice as much.

The debt rhetoric: How we got here
Obama: Everyone has to chip in

If the members of this committee are serious, they will look at the work of the Fiscal Commission that Erskine Bowles and I co-chaired, and they will look at the work of the brave souls in the Senate Gang of Six. They need to look at all parts of the budget and leave no sacred cows out on the range. If they leave out Medicare, Social Security solvency, Medicaid, defense and spending in the tax code -- the biggest drivers of the debt -- it won't fix one damn thing.

The members of the committee must be guided by what is best for the country, not by what is best for their re-election or their contributors and pressure groups. They may just find that if they do what is best for the country, they will gain back the respect from their constituents that is so sorely lacking today.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Alan Simpson.