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Erskine Bowles Delivers Southern Charm and Sobering Reality at Philadelphia Speakers Series

Sometimes laughter is the best way to prepare yourself to take tough medicine. Erskine Bowles, former White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, delivered doses of both Monday during the Philadelphia Speakers Series presented by Widener University at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.
Erskine Bowles and James T. Harris
With the charm of a southern gentleman, Bowles, a native of North Carolina, captured the sold-out audience's attention with humorous anecdotes about being a university president (he was president of the University of North Carolina system from 2005-10), the passing of his Uncle Sam, and his relationship with former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyoming), with whom he served as co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, often referred to as the Simpson-Bowles Commission.

Bowles said he is often asked why his name doesn't take top billing in the name of the commission. "Because everything in Washington is known by its initials," Bowles said.

Setting humor aside, and with the deadline for forced government spending cuts, known as sequestration, looming at week's end, Bowles delivered the tough medicine on the fiscal state of the nation that the audience anticipated. "This is a tough subject, but one that's really critical," he said. "Tonight, I hope to make you think tonight; then I hope to make you act."

Bowles outlined five critical issues at the center of the country's fiscal woes: health care spending, defense spending, the tax code, social security spending, and compound interest.

"We spend $230 billion per year on interest alone," Bowles said. "That's more than we spend on commerce, education, energy...more than we spend on all of them combined. That's nuts. You ought to be mad."

Bowles said that the nation can't solely cut its way out of the problem, and it can't tax its way out either. He called on both parties to set aside their differences and face sobering realities. He also called on the audience to support Fix the Debt, a non-partisan movement created by Bowles and Simpson to put America on a better fiscal an economic path. He encouraged the audience to sign the petition on the organization's website at

"My generation—I'm 67—created this problem and we have to clean it up," he said. "We can't be the first generation of Americans to leave this nation worse than we found it."



Photo Caption:  Erskine Bowles (left) and Widener University President James T. Harris III