That is the question I asked our six panelists on “This Week” during a special discussion centering on the fiscal health of the United States that we conducted in partnership with the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. Presidents have been warning for decades of the dangers of this country’s debt and deficits. So in some senses, this debate we’re having is nothing new. But the big question, is this time different? Is this the year we finally start to get our nation’s finances in order?
You can read the full conversation I had with each panelist below.
Kimberley Strassel – Columnist and Editorial Board member, The Wall Street Journal
TAPPER: Kim, is there the political will in Washington to get something done this year? And if not, are we headed for bankruptcy?
STRASSEL: I don’t know if there is with this current president, and you know, with all respect to our two members of Congress here, in the history of Congress, has there ever been an example of Congress coming together to make this some gigantic decision without a president leading them along the way and pushing them to do it?
And for whatever reason, this is not Barack Obama’s style. We have seen the last few years, instead he waits until we’re at crisis period; we saw it when the tax cuts were about to expire the first time.
We saw it again with the debt ceiling debate last year. And finally, swoops in at the very end, when there’s no more time any more. Maybe when we get through this election and this fiscal cliff is upon us, maybe at that point, he will engage and do something. But I don’t see anything happening before them.
Austan Goolsbee – Former Chairman, Obama Council of Economic Advisers; Professor, University of Chicago Booth School of Business; ABC News Consultant
TAPPER: Austan, I suspect that you have a different take.
GOOLSBEE: Yes, I don’t think that’s a particular fair characterization. I think you’ve seen a lot of hostage-taking by the other side. I would say, yes, I’m somewhat pessimistic before the election or even in the lame duck that Congress will be able to do something.
But I’m somewhat optimistic for 2013. they almost had a deal last year, and I think they could get a deal
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. – Member, Senate Budget Committee; Member, 2011 Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction
TAPPER: Senator, you were on the super committee, so if any body has the right to be pessimistic, it’s you and Congressman Van Hollen. What do you think?
TOOMEY: I think we’re going to need an election to provide some more clarity from the voters, what I think we’re going to need at this point.
TAPPER: But if President Obama’s reelected, do you think then that means Republicans would say, OK, I’m willing to raise taxes on wealthy Americans?
TOOMEY: Well, no, I think we’re still going to have a very challenging — very challenging road. Look, you know, there’s a fundamental question that I think –
TAPPER: So clarity is Mitt Romney’s –
TOOMEY: If Governor Romney is elected, I think we’re going to solve these problems. And I think it — the evidence is pretty clear. We’ve laid out plans that do it.
It’s actually simple. All you do is make sure that the government grows more slowly than the economy.
That’s the answer; there’s plenty of will to do it on our side. I think after this election, there will be some more Democrats open to that approach.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. – Ranking Member, House Budget Committee; Member, 2011 Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction
TAPPER: What do you think, Congressman?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think the most important thing right now is try to — try to accelerate the very fragile recovery. The president has actually had his jobs initiative sitting before the House of Representatives since last September. Haven’t had a single vote on that.
So let’s get the economy moving again. Let’s pass the president’s jobs bill and then let’s take an immediate but balanced approach to reducing our long-term deficits.
TAPPER: Are you pessimistic?
VAN HOLLEN: I’m not pessimistic that we can resolve these issues. I believe we have to reach compromise to do it. Right now, at least in the House of Representatives, compromise is a dirty word. And in order for us to solve our problems, there’s got to be a little bit of give-and-take.
Grover Norquist – Founder and President, Americans for Tax Reform
TAPPER: Grover, are you pessimistic, optimistic? Can this problem be solved?
NORQUIST: I’m very optimistic, because for the first time one of the parties actually has a plan that will reform entitlements and give us a pro-growth economic policy. And that hasn’t been true before. We don’t have two parties with that, but we have one.
If Romney’s elected along with a Republican House and Senate, then you can do something like the Romney and Ryan proposals on tax reform and spending reform and we do a u-turn way from the road to serfdom.
If the Democrats have the Senate or the presidency, you end up with higher taxes
There’s a decision and people will decide in November, you want bigger government and higher taxes or smaller government and lower taxes? I’m confident the American people will choose wisely.
Neil Barofsky – Former Special Inspector General, Troubled Assets Relief Program; Author, “Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street”
TAPPER: Neil, last word.
BAROFSKY: No. We’re not going to have grand bargain. You can tell from this debate just how highly politicized everything has become. But, no, we’re not going to go into bankruptcy, either.
The great thing about this country is that notwithstanding the best efforts by both political parties, somehow we blunder our way forward. And we’re going to come out of this crisis and we’re going to have economic recovery.