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Gregg sees reason to be optimistic in solving fiscal crisis

Senior Political Reporter

January 13. 2013 11:35PM

In the two years since Judd Gregg left Capitol Hill, the federal debt and deficit have continued to balloon, the partisan rancor has grown, and his Republican Party took a beating in the last election.

Yet, the former U.S. senator and governor finds reason for optimism. He believes the year-end deal on the fiscal cliff signaled the debt crisis will be addressed in a significant way this year.

But for that to happen, Gregg said in an interview, President Barack Obama must begin to "engage and show leadership."

Although we remain "on a path to bankruptcy," Gregg said if Obama gets serious about negotiating with Republicans, "you're going to get some sort of major agreement on entitlements and tax reform, which are the last two legs of the stool.

"They addressed discretionary spending in the 2011 budget agreement, and in the fiscal cliff deal, they addressed revenues. Now they have entitlements and tax reform ahead of them, and I think both will be done over the course of the year.

"We're getting close, and all we need is some presidential leadership."

Gregg said the Senate remains generally "collegial," but said the House must find a way to set aside its extremism on both sides.

It has become "a very stratified institution" of liberals and conservatives who "do not tolerate compromise," said Gregg.

"But governance, by definition, requires compromise, especially when you have divided government, which we almost always have in this country.

"The President has not been willing to step forward and engage on these major fiscal policy issues other than to push for higher taxes on the wealthy and a class warfare agenda," said Gregg.

Since leaving the Senate, Gregg has been an international adviser for Goldman Sachs and a distinguished fellow addressing classes at Dartmouth College. He has been involved with the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, has appeared on news talk shows and, on a personal note, has twice become a grandfather, which he calls "great fun."

He is a co-chair of the nonpartisan "Fix the Debt" group, which he said has been having an impact in Washington by promoting a bipartisan approach to the deficit.

He said the Simpson-Bowles plan, combining spending cuts and entitlement reform with revenue increases, is gaining acceptance as a blueprint. Both former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson are on the "Fix the Debt" board with Gregg.

Reflecting on the 2012 campaign, Gregg said Republicans "marginalized ourselves with independents. Instead of being an expanding tent, we had people out there who were narrowing the tent."

He would not blame his friend, Mitt Romney, but cited "the other folks in the primary process" and "lackey candidates in places like Indiana and Missouri, who became the face of the party.''

"An election that should have been about fiscal policy, spending and jobs ended up being about social policy," he said. "We looked very harsh, and as a result, our party seriously narrowed our base."

The former two-term governor said Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan and state lawmakers also face huge challenges.

"We have a very serious unfunded pension liability issue and no one is facing up to it," he said. "We have a very serious problem with our university system not getting the funding it needs and nobody has figured out how to address it.

"We're in need of a Legislature willing to face up to difficult issues, and I don't think people have done that yet," he said.

Gregg said he is staying out of the race for state Republican Party chair, but said the party should "get back running on what has historically been our strength, which is fiscal discipline, protection of the environment, individual rights and liberties and home rule. That's what we've always stood for."

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