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Bipartisan powers, activate! Can Congress's debt avengers be superheroes?

Once again, Washington's bipartisan, blue-ribbon, out-of-power elite gathers to urge Congress to break the gridlock and do the right thing on the nation's looming financial Armageddon.

By Staff writer / July 17, 2012

Former White House budget director Alice Rivlin (r), former Sen. Alan Simpson (R) of Wyoming (c), and Erskine Bowles, chief of staff in the Clinton White House, testify before a Senate hearing on fiscal responsibility on Nov. 1, 2011. Today, they announced a 'Fix the Debt Campaign' to, again, try to help resolve the nation's fiscal crisis.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File

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A bipartisan group calling itself the “Fix the Debt Campaign” kicked off its work Tuesday, and when these clear-eyed, pragmatic, bipartisan powers combine, they just might be the granddaddy of all Washington’s seemingly never-ending stream of commissions, working groups, and “gangs” of all membership levels aimed at correcting the nation’s treacherous financial trajectory.

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But that name just doesn’t have the right swing – how about The Debt Avengers? The (Fiscal) Justice League? Or, if it wasn’t already sullied by congressional impotence, The Supercommittee?

Fix the Debt has arguably accumulated everybody who is anybody in Washington’s wonky, “let’s get real” set about federal debt and deficits. The effort is led by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R) of Wyoming and Democrat Erskine Bowles. Yes, the Simpson and Bowles of the Simpson-Bowles plan to reduce the nation’s debt by $4 trillion over 10 years, which nearly every elected official in Washington says (when trying to sound reasonable and bipartisan) that they love in theory but won’t touch otherwise. A vote for a plan along the lines of Simpson-Bowles in the House earlier this year turned up less than three dozen votes.

And that’s the group’s main question: What’s going to make it different from all the other herdings of well-meaning, rational, patriotic Americans who have beat their heads against the walls of Congress and the White House to no avail? Simpson-Bowles, after all, was the product of President Obama’s own debt commission – a fact easily forgotten considering the president left the plan largely for dead upon its publication, only to broadly endorse it later on.

But Messrs. Simpson and Bowles have backup. They are joined by Alice Rivlin, the first-ever director of the Congressional Budget Office who, by her own admission, “may have served on more debt commissions than anybody in Washington,” and is half of a duo (the other is former Sen. Pete Dominici (R) of New Mexico) that published a second bipartisan debt reduction plan.

Lawmakers looking for guidance from Wall Street types can look to famed investment banker Peter Peterson on the right or Steven Rattner, Mr. Obama’s auto czar, on the left. Those who want private-sector bona fides can find them in Honeywell chairman and CEO Dave Cote and World Fuel Services chairman and CEO Paul Stebbins. And for that down-the-middle, think tank-y wonkishness, there’s former World Bank chief Robert Zoellick and the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Maya McGuineas.

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