"When we started working on the president’s commission, we figured we were doing it for our grandkids, but as we worked on it more, it became clear we weren’t doing it for our grandkids, or even our kids, but for ourselves,” said Erskine Bowles, the former White House chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, who is also known to dealmakers as the founder of boutique investment bank Bowles Hollowell Conner & Co., in a keynote address at ACG InterGrowth on April 23.
The keynote was co-delivered by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.). Together, they co-chair the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, a bipartisan commission that developed a plan for trimming the nation's deficits by $4 trillion over the next decade.
“We came to understand that if we can’t get politicians on the right and the left to pull together rather than apart, we’ll face the most predictable economic crisis in history,” continued Bowles. “It’s also the most avoidable economic crisis in history. But we’ve got to act.”
Bowles outlined five problems to focus on: health care (“We spend twice as much as any other developed country on health care.”); defense (“We spend more than the next 17 countries combined.”); tax code; social security (“It will be $900 billion cash-negative over the next 10 years.”); and interest on the debt.
“What we want you to do is put pressure on Congress to deal with this,” urged Bowles.
The comments resonated with many members of the audience whose travel to the conference had been lengthened due to flight delays at major East Coast airports, as sequester-related furloughs of air traffic controllers began. Bowles and Simpson’s flight from another part of Florida was delayed so significantly that they switched gears and drove instead.
Bowles also recalled briefly his early days at BHC, working on the first deals of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (NYSE: KKR) and other private equity firms.
Bowles and Simpson each displayed wit.
“We don’t want to throw Granny off the cliff. Hell, we are Granny,” quipped Bowles.
Simpson concluded the formal remarks, saying, “We’ve achieved life’s ultimate goal: we’ve effectively pissed off everyone in America!”
For more on ACG InterGrowth 2013, see “Erskine Bowles, Sen. Alan Simpson, Adm. Eric Olson Deliver Keynotes at ACG InterGrowth 2013;” "Welcome to ACG InterGrowth 2013” and "Focus on Florida." For more on Erskine Bowles, see “Standard Bearer” and video interviews "Erskine Bowles Respects 'Dinky Deals'" and "Erskine Bowles Prescribes Tough Medicine for Enonomy."
For more on Bowles Hollowell Conner & Co., see “Living Legacy.”