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WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - Congress must replace upcoming "dumb" across-the-board budget cuts with targeted spending cuts and sweeping changes to tackle the nation's debt without restricting economic growth, the former co-chairs of President Obama's debt commission say in a revamped bipartisan proposal for fiscal restraint.
Erskine Bowles, Bill Clinton's former chief of staff, and former senator Alan Simpson, a Republican from Wyoming, were scheduled to appear at a Washington breakfast hosted by Politico on Tuesday to promote their renewed call for fiscal restraint under the banner of the Campaign to Fix the Debt.
The looming cuts, called a "sequester," will cut defense and social programs across the board starting March 1 - a consequence that threatens to slow economic growth and cost jobs. The White House argues that the sequester will impact the nation's security as well as programs that help the most vulnerable Americans.
"The mindless, across-the-board cuts from sequestration would reduce the deficit, but represent the wrong approach to budgeting," Simpson and Bowles write in a three-page outline of their proposal. They argue that the cuts - about $85 billion through the end of the Sept. 30 fiscal year - should be replaced with more targeted cuts and program reforms.
The two advocates join a chorus of voices calling for Washington to find an alternative path to deficit reduction, but there remains so far an unbridgeable divide between Republicans and Democrats in Congress on how to supplant the spending cuts. Democrats want to use a combination of spending cuts and new revenue, while Republicans want only spending cuts.
In their proposal, Simpson and Bowles also caution against sharp austerity measures and oppose cutting low-income programs for the purpose of deficit reduction - two arguments promoted by Democrats. There are also policy proposals that will find support among Republicans, which call for overhauling the tax code to reduce the number of expenditures and lowering the marginal tax rates for individuals and corporations, which GOP lawmakers broadly support.