Cecelia Shao / The Dartmouth Staff
In his lecture, Gregg said that the Simpson-Bowles initiative is "the first legitimate, comprehensive plan to address America's debt issue in a bipartisan way."
The initiative would reduce the U.S. debt by four trillion dollars over 10 years, focusing 75 percent of its efforts on spending restraints and 25 percent on generating new revenue.
Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., are the co-founders of Fix the Debt.
Although the Simpson-Bowles commission failed to pass a bill since convening in 2010, Gregg said that the main tenants of the proposal are still being discussed by congressmen on both sides of the aisle.
"Simpson-Bowles is about reaching a consensus between extremes on both sides extremely fiscally conservative members of Congress and extremely liberal ones," Gregg said.
The U.S. deficit and debt began to increase dramatically after the 2008 economic downturn, according to Gregg.
The U.S. now faces a distinct possibility of bankruptcy because of the tremendous cost of its entitlement programs. The runaway debt will have an outsized effect on future generations who will be responsible for paying for the current programs if they are not reformed.
Gregg said that the key driving force behind such an extraordinary increase in national debt was an "explosion" in the size of government due to its unsustainable entitlement programs. These programs have grown with the aging of the baby boomer generation. Gregg noted that Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security together accounted for more than 50 percent of total federal outlays in 2012.
"Entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are running unfunded liabilities of 81 trillion dollars," Gregg said. "Even with all the taxes paid for these programs, we've got 81 trillion dollars that have no way to be paid."
Among major industrialized nations, the U.S. has one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios. The country has been running an average trillion-dollar deficit for the last four years, Gregg said.
The U.S. government is prepared to enact 900 billion dollars of discretionary spending cuts from a 2011 agreement and 600 billion dollars over 10 years of new tax revenue from the recent fiscal cliff deal, he said.
He said that the entitlement programs have been growing at an untenable rate, because they are not subject to budget constraints. Gregg called for structural changes in the programs to limit the payouts to beneficiaries.
Despite its rising entitlement liabilities, Gregg said he believes the U.S. is likely to resolve the debt situation not only because of its economic advantages, but also because of the American "entrepreneurial spirit."
He cited the nation's move toward greater energy independence as an example of a positive change.
"We're ready to go as a culture," he said. "All we need is for our government to strongly commit to reforming these entitlement programs."
In an interview, Gregg expressed hope that a comprehensive agreement could be reached by this summer.
He primarily blamed poor leadership for the slow progress.
Ronald Shaiko, Rockefeller Center associate director and a government professor, said that Gregg is "a sage in residence" to speak about the current deficit situation because of his experience serving as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and his current involvement in the Simpson-Bowles and Fix the Debt initiatives.
During the Fall term, Gregg was named the inaugural Dartmouth Distinguished Fellow for an initial commitment of three years, Shaiko said.
Gregg conducts class visits, public lectures, office hours and meetings with students, faculty and student organizations at Dartmouth.
"The more you can have the practitioner world overlap with the academic world, the better," Shaiko said.
Alexandros Sotirios Zervos '16 said that Gregg offered clear and important opinions.
"I think most people at this point probably agree that entitlement reform is needed," he said. "I think the challenge is getting over the politics."
Latrell Williams '16 said that he appreciates the Simpson-Bowles proposal because it protects the debt issue from extremists on both sides.
Gregg presented "accurate" solutions to the problem by explaining that the government does not need to cut benefits entirely, but simply needs to revise the structure of its existing programs, Williams said.
"Senator Gregg's solution is great because it urges people to drop ideology to solve the issue," he said. "I think this issue really requires a bipartisan effort."
Gregg's lecture, "Federal Budgeting in a Post-Cliff Environment," is part of the Rockefeller Center's Brooks Family Lecture series.
Sean Connolly contributed reporting to this article.