Erskine Bowles, co-chairman of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission assembled by the White House to deal with the national debt, said he believes that there's only a one-in-three probability that Congress will reach an agreement on the so-called fiscal cliff before the Dec. 31 deadline.
"We have a real crisis, and I think it would be insane to reach the fiscal cliff, but I think that there's only a one-third probability of Congress getting something done before Dec. 31," Bowles said. "You all know what it means if we don't, if we go over the cliff - I think you'll see economic growth slowed by as much as 3 to 5 percent. That's obviously enough to put us back into a recession."
Bowles was a bit more upbeat about the chances for a deal after the deadline passes.
"I'm certain we'll get it done in the lame duck" session of Congress, he said. "I think it's about one third that we'll go over the cliff and people will come to their senses pretty quickly. But I think the real problem is if we go over the cliff and we don't do anything immediately, and that's also a one-third probability."
Bowles, a Democrat who served as President Clinton's chief of staff in 1997-8, was joined at a Wednesday morning briefing by his debt reduction partner, former Senator Alan Simpson, a Republican.
In 2010 Simpson and Bowles were asked by President Obama to head a commission to find policies that could "achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run." The two men delivered a report, commonly referred to as the Simpson-Bowles plan, that failed in a Congressional vote to get a formal endorsement. Neither man is seen as having a dog in the fight, so to speak, regarding a deal on the fiscal cliff. They are a bipartisan team, and neither works in the public sector anymore. So their outlook is seen as sobering.
Bowles said he that he believes that the White House is "absolutely serious" about getting something done, but said he wished that they had started tackling the problem earlier.
"If we go over the cliff, you have bet the country," he said.
Later today Bowles and Simpson head to Capitol Hill to meet with Speaker Boehner and House Republicans.
On a lighter note, the men were asked why their panel was called "Simpson-Bowles" and not "Bowles-Simpson." Simpson explained: "Because the acronym for Bowles-Simpson is not appropriate."