The architects of a plan to get the country's fiscal house in order say it will take a colossal amount of courage and cooperation from members of Congress to stave off a looming financial disaster.
"We face the most predictable economic crisis in history," former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles told a packed house at the state Culture Center Monday morning.
"Fortunately for all of us, it's also the most avoidable economic crisis in history," Bowles said.
Bowles, who served as chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, joined former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and Sen. Joe Manchin for a forum on the nation's finances.
Manchin, D-W.Va., organized the event to encourage public dialogue over the country's fiscal problems.
"What we're trying to do is prevent a train wreck," Manchin said. "We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I can tell you it's a big locomotive coming at us."
Capito, R-W.Va., said she came to hear Simpson and Bowles lay out their ideas for reducing the deficit and also to hear what people in the audience had to say.
"I came to listen," Capito said. "I think that's the most important thing we need to do in Washington, is to listen instead of talk so much.
"We all want to leave the country in a better place than what we found it, but if we don't take aggressive action, then I'm afraid that won't be the case," she said.
Simpson and Bowles served as co-chairmen of President Barack Obama's debt reduction commission.
While they produced a report outlining a way to cut the country's debt and deficits by $4 trillion over the next decade, it was largely ignored in Washington, D.C., because of the politically unpopular decisions it would have forced lawmakers to make.
Both men said the hyper-partisanship in Washington is to blame for making the situation so bad.
"They worship the God of re-election," Simpson said of Congress. "You know the difference between a horse race and a political race; in a horse race, the entire horse runs."
"We've got to put partisanship aside to do what's best for this country because we can't continue to have these trillion-dollar deficits," Bowles said.
"These deficits of over a trillion dollars a year are like a cancer, a cancer that's going to destroy our country from within," he said.
Their plan would use a combination of spending reductions and reforms to the federal tax code and entitlement programs to start bringing down the national debt in about a decade.
While the choices are difficult, both men say they are necessary to fix a government that's lived well beyond its means for far too long.
Bowles said the government's current revenue is enough to pay for only mandatory spending in entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security and annual interest on the national debt - nothing else.
"That means last year, every dollar we spent on these two wars, on national defense, on homeland security, on education, infrastructure, research - every single dollar was borrowed, and half of it was borrowed from foreign countries," he said. "That is crazy; that is nuts."