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GOP Congressman: New Simpson-Bowles May Be Needed to Rein in Debt

National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform co-chairmen Alan Simpson, right, and Erskine Bowles testify on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 8, 2011. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

An outspoken Republican critic of President-elect Trump said Congress needs to remember that they’re “not a bunch of potted plants” to rubber-stamp the president’s agenda.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said Trump may also need to establish a bipartisan review panel similar to the Simpson-Bowles National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to address sustainability, particularly when it comes to entitlement reforms that weren’t mentioned on the campaign trail.

The deficit-reduction plan crafted by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and Clinton-era White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles ultimately failed to win enough converts, from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to President Obama.

Simpson and Bowles pressed Obama hard on entitlement reform, arguing it needed to be the next step to bring the deficit under control. Their recommendations included reducing Medicare and Medicaid spending through a series of reforms including adjusting benefits and payments and reducing drug costs, enacting tax reform that includes simplification of the tax code; strengthening limits on discretionary spending, cutting non-health mandatory spending including in education and adopting chained CPI. The bipartisan duo also argued reforms also need to get under way to make Social Security “sustainably solvent.”

“We’re going to work with the president when he’s on the right track. I think we’ll support him when he’s on the right track,” Dent told MSNBC on Wednesday. “But if he goes in a direction that’s probably where we might disagree, we might have to check him from time to time. And I think that’s pretty basic.”

“You know, we have a separation of powers system… we will work in partnership with the administration when they’re on the right track and there might be times where we disagree and there might be times we might be able help them fashion policy and make it better,” the congressman said.

Dent supports Trump’s call for a $1 trillion infrastructure bill in principle, but stressed “we should pay for it substantially.”

“And I’m prepared to, you know, make some serious suggestions about sustainable reforms or revenue that President-Elect Donald Trump has talked about, tax credits and public/private partnerships which I think are valuable. But I don’t believe that would be the entire bill. So bottom line is, I believe we’re going to have to probably pay for a substantial part of this bill, yes,” he said.

“…If you look at President-Elect Trump’s agenda, he’s talking about obviously the infrastructure bill. He’s talking about a defense buildup, a tax reform that could bring in less revenue. That’s all true. And so, this could obviously add to the deficit. And I think that we’re going to have to have serious conversations between the administration and Congress about seeing how we can reconcile all these issues.”

Dent noted that Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), picked by Trump to head the Office of Management and Budget, has been a “real deficit hawk, and so he’s going to have to reconcile some this stuff.”

“President-Elect Trump has said that he hasn’t wanted to move forward on, say, entitlement changes, whether Medicare or Social Security,” he added. “…Well, first, I’ll tell you that the federal healthcare problems are the driver of our debt in this country. Far and away more than anything else… at some point, we need to have that conversation, particularly if we’re talking about defense buildups and infrastructure bills and tax reform. We’re going to have to probably need to establish some kind of a Simpson-Bowles commission again or — you know, I thought that was a good start, by the way. I think President Trump may have to move in that direction at some point.”

Asked if he was “intimidated” by Trump, Dent said he was not.

“I intend to work with him when he’s right. And if he’s on the wrong track, you know, we might have to check him,” the Republican said. “But, no, I’m not intimidated.”