In working to revive the U.S. fiscal health, policymakers must address inequality in incomes and opportunities, former President Bill Clinton and GOP presidential hopeful Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., said in separate discussions during a fiscal summit Wednesday in Washington.
Both also were questioned about the most pressing current political issues respectively facing each: For Clinton, aspersions cast about the health of Hillary Clinton by Karl Rove and, for Christie, ongoing questions about an embarrassing, politically driven traffic jam outside New York City.
But the potential 2016 combatants revealed some general overlap when it came to improving the country's current economic prospects.
More vigorous job growth will grow household wealth, and that is the first step in fixing income disparity, Clinton said.
“We can't just tax our way through this,” he said of reducing the federal deficit.
Corporate tax reform is also needed ahead of a comprehensive tax deal in to bolster growth, Clinton said.
“It’'s a mistake to put it off,” he said. “We've got to unlock this money.”
Christie, who took the stage after Clinton, echoed the former president in general terms on the importance of “meaningful” tax reform – though he also called for entitlement reform – and addressed what he called “opportunity inequality.”
“[The] problem in this country is not income inequality, it's opportunity inequality,” Christie said.
In a stance somewhat disparate from his Washington political counterparts, Christie expressed some support for raising the minimum wage – something President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have wielded as a 2014 campaign issue. But Christie said he would support doing so only in graduated steps, as he proposed in New Jersey – an additional $1.25 over the course of three years so that businesses have time to prepare.
“Making those extreme moves in one fell swoop is not good for the economy,” the Republican governor said.
Clinton also echoed the need for comprehensive immigration reform and investment in infrastructure and early childhood development – themes emphasized by Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., earlier during the summit.
Murray noted the Congressional Budget Office had estimated immigration reform would add $1.7 trillion to the economy and reduce the federal deficit over time.
The CBO projects Obama’s proposed 2015 budget would reduce the deficit to $492 billion. At 2.8 percent of total gross domestic product, that would be the lowest level since 2007. The federal budget was at a surplus for three years during Clinton’s administration then plummeted in 2009 during the recession.
Later, addressing Karl Rove’s recent questioning Hillary Clinton’s health and his wife’s potential 2016 run for the presidency, Clinton said: “She works out every week, she's strong, she's doing great and as far as I'm concerned she's in better shape than I am.”
Christie, asked about the controversy over his role in the traffic snarl ordered by some of his top aides to punish a Democratic mayor, said it wouldn’t impact his political future because he had nothing to do with it.
The one-day summit, sponsored by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a group focused on highlighting budget and debt issues, also featured former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and several top congressional lawmakers.