Bipartisan group seeks collective compromise to ‘fix the debt’

At microphone, Michael Enright, left, and Chip DiPaula.

At microphone, Michael Enright, left, and Chip DiPaula.

By Len Lazarick

Anne Arundel County Council member Jamie Benoit is taking off the entire second half of December from his day job as CEO of Federal Data Systems, not to get ready for Christmas or go skiing, but to lobby the many members of Congress he knows to “fix the debt.”

“This is the time that kicking the can (down the road) has got to stop,” Benoit said at Monday’s launch of the Maryland chapter of “Fix the Debt.” This bi-partisan group has been set up to urge members of Congress to “compromise” and come up with “a grand bargain” that will avoid driving over the “fiscal cliff” of massive tax hikes and budget cuts scheduled for Jan. 1.

The goal is “comprehensive and long-term solution to the debt problem,” said Michael Enright, former chief of staff of Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. “The math involved in this is inescapable” and “it will involve pain and sacrifice for all of us.”

Pain and sacrifice for all

“Everyone’s going to have to give a little bit,” said Chip DiPaula, former chief of staff for Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich.

“This is really the seminal issue of our day,” said Tom McMillen, who left Congress 20 years ago when Democrats and Republicans “worked better together than they do today.”  Back then the national debt was 65% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), and now it is heading toward 100% of the output of goods and services, said the former Democratic congressman.

National debt graphThe group is not offering any specific proposals for a solution, but it was founded by Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, who co-chaired President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The commission did present a detailed plan for tax reform and budget cuts.

Fix the Debt nationally is chaired by former Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.

There are now Fix the Debt chapters in 15 states including Ohio, Florida, Maine, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Colorado and Tennessee.

“We’re not presenting any answers,” Enright said, but seeking “a collective will to come to a solution.”

“What we’re talking about is a compromise,” said DiPaula. “It’s going to be a collective solution.”

Impact on contractors

If Congress and the president do not agree to a solution by the end of the year, all the Bush tax cuts will expire and large cuts in spending will go into effect, particularly affecting the defense budget and contractors.

“I won’t have to close my doors” as a federal IT contractor, Benoit said, but “I know many in my business that will.”

In an interview, Benoit said he knows smaller contractors who are “walking around ignorant” about the potential impact of the budget cuts. He said most federal contracts have a provision for “termination for convenience” that would allow the government to stop contracts all together or renegotiate them on more favorable terms.

Other members  

Other members of Fix the Debt Maryland are Anirban Basu, chairman & CEO Sage Policy Group; Sean Creamer, chief operating officer and executive vice president of Arbitron Inc.; Richard Cross, former speechwriter for Gov. Bob Ehrlich and columnist; Michael Cryor, public relations consultant and former Maryland Democratic Party chairman; Lin Eagan, owner, Lakeview Title Company; Donald Fry, president & CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee; Wayne Gilchrest, former Republican member of U.S. House of Representatives.

Mary Kane, 2010 Republican nominee for lieutenant governor and former Maryland Secretary of State; Martin Knott, president of Knott Mechanical and chairman, Maryland Economic Development Corporation; Timothy Maloney, attorney and former Member Maryland House of Delegates; Bruce Poole, former majority leader, Maryland House of Delegates; Nicolas Ramos, owner, Arcos Restaurant and CEO, Casas Y Comunidad; Martin Richardson, part-owner, Verde Group; Paul Sheehy, director, Sheehy Auto Stores; Jim Smith, former Baltimore County Executive; Ben Wu, vice chair, US-Asia Institute and former assistant secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce.