Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson expect $85 billion in automatic budget cuts to go into effect March 1 before their colleagues and the president get down to business.
Both Republican lawmakers are prominent members of bipartisan groups in Congress dedicated to trimming up to $5 trillion from the growing federal debt over the next decade. They say that both tax increases and cuts to entitlement programs, such as Medicare, have to be on the table.
Crapo said Tuesday that reducing the debt before the United States loses it ability to borrow at low rates is the most critical issue facing the nation.
"The American Dream is on the line," Crapo said.
Simpson and Crapo were in Boise on Tuesday for a symposium on the debt, co-sponsored by the James and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy at the University of Idaho and Idaho Public Television.
They joined two high-powered figures in the effort to focus attention on fiscal issues: former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, who co-chaired the Simpson-Bowles Commission on the fiscal crisis; and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., one of the "Gang of Six" senators with Crapo seeking a "grand deal" on the deficit.
Alan Simpson came to Boise after he and Erskine Bowles, Bill Clinton's former chief of staff, unveiled a new proposal to avoid the approaching automatic spending cuts while trying to deal with debt drivers such as Medicare. Their plan would cut the deficit by $2.4 trillion over the next decade through a mix of health care reform, closing tax loopholes and Social Security adjustments.
"We feel we've succeeded beyond all our dreams because we've pissed off everyone in America," said Alan Simpson.
Idaho's Crapo and Simpson said that Congress has been unwilling to undertake a painful restructuring of entitlement programs. It also has been unwilling to reform the tax code, which could mean getting rid of some popular breaks.
"Sequestration" is the formal term for the automatic across-the-board cuts that are on the horizon. After those "stupid" cuts are made, Mike Simpson said, Congress will have to address a possible shutdown of the government and deal with raising the debt ceiling again.
"I think the next 90 to 100 days are going to decide the future of our country," Mike Simpson said.
It will take a bipartisan deal, according to Crapo, because the public is not going to like what has to be done to prevent the nation from losing its solvency.
"The worst option is the status quo," said Crapo, who served on the 2010 Simpson-Bowles panel, which made recommendations that were never enacted.
Warner said that sequestration will cost taxpayers more money than they will save in many cases. For instance, multiyear military contracts often provide savings of 20 percent to 30 percent over short-term contracts, which could be lost to across-the-board cuts, he said.
Idaho's Simpson, who has teamed up with Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland in supporting what they call the "go big" plan, is hopeful that a deal can be forged this year.
"I honestly believe there is a governing majority in the House and Senate ready to make the tough vote," Mike Simpson said.
In Washington on Tuesday, President Barack Obama warned that "people will lose their jobs" if Congress doesn't act to avoid sequestration. The president said that the immediate spending cuts would affect the full range of government.
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The Associated Press contributed.