We can’t afford to procrastinate on debt

Jonathan Miller Published:

Burying your head in the sand. Ignoring the elephant in the room. Lying to the Emperor about his lack of new clothes. Pick your metaphor, but there is one issue to which we as Americans must reconcile ourselves: Our country’s debt path threatens us with an economic crisis if we do not take action.

At present our national debt exceeds $16 trillion, a figure that is larger than the size of our entire economy. The last time our country faced a debt burden of this magnitude was during and immediately after World War II. Only this time, our debt is projected to rise indefinitely. But just as the “Greatest Generation” helped put our budget into balance, aiding in the creation of the most competitive economy in the world, now it’s our turn.

Fixing the long-term debt outlook, however, is a tall order. Politicians are loath to do anything to harm the priorities of their favored constituencies, be it spending on transportation or scientific research or maintaining current tax rates and exemptions. Rather than putting everything on the table, elected officials in Washington tend to instead kick the can down the road.

We don’t have the luxury of waiting for a solution. The automatic and nearly across-the-board spending cuts that lawmakers agreed to last summer in an unsuccessful attempt to force a debt deal in the fall – part of a larger set of automatic tax increases and spending cuts known as the “fiscal cliff” – are set to go into effect on Jan. 1. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that careening over the edge of the fiscal cliff would shrink the economy by a 3.9 percent annual rate in the first quarter of 2013 and send the economy into a double-dip recession.

In sum, we need to develop a real solution, and soon. And we need the tenacity to follow through. The size and scope of our national debt threatens to consume all of our public priorities. Indeed, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen labeled the national debt as the single biggest threat to national security. New research from Deloitte has revealed that the country will spend $4.2 trillion over the next decade merely servicing the debt, funds that could be used to invest in infrastructure, or in research and development or be used to keep tax rates low. Already, the fear of the fiscal cliff has caused businesses to slow hiring and investments, and Moody’s, the credit-rating agency, has stated that it will consider downgrading our credit rating if responsible actions to begin bringing down the debt are not taken as part of an effort to avoid the cliff. Our political leadership needs to take action before the debt becomes so burdensome that it severely hampers our country’s ability to compete, maintain our social safety net or create jobs.

However, there is hope. Already, a group of former lawmakers, experts, business leaders and concerned citizens from across the political spectrum have come together, putting their ideological differences aside, in pursuit of a common-sense plan. This new bipartisan group, called the Campaign to Fix The Debt – chaired nationally by former Sen. Alan Simpson and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles – has already received support from over 180,000 Americans in a petition drive to hold elected officials accountable, demanding that our nation’s fiscal path remain front and center in the public discourse. Of course, generating a solid plan to reduce our national debt – without knee-jerk reactions or extreme measures – is an uphill climb, to say the least. But initiatives like the Campaign to Fix the Debt prove that we do have leaders willing to look at both sides of the ledger – spending and revenue – in order to find a deal.

The first step is to understand the severity of the problem we face, and the second is to insist that our elected officials act responsibly and quickly to enact a solution. Kentuckians are frugal, responsible people and understand the simple concept that expending more resources than you bring in is simply not sustainable. That is why it’s more important than ever that people across the commonwealth sign up with the Campaign to Fix The Debt at FixTheDebt.org and send a message to our elected officials that we need long-term solutions to our debt, and that business as usual will not be tolerated.

Jonathan Miller is a former Kentucky state treasurer, a supporter of the Campaign to Fix The Debt and a co-founder of No Labels.

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  • smiley, without the federal funds, the conditions in Kentucky (or for that matter, most any southern/midwest state) would more closely resemble a 3rd world country. You decide whether that would be good or not for the state. If you will re-read my piece carefully, you will see that I am quite critical of the present arrangement...I used the term "moochers" off of the feds. Does that really sound like I think that this present ratio is "good" for our state? I think that Kentuckians should vote for representatives who are realist and who are not afraid to pass tax reform to pay for what we spend on essential programs. It only makes sense. ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ As far as your assertion that "This money we receive is borrowed as well.", I would ask you how do you know that? The basic financial condition of our country is sound, and we are in much better shape than the rest of the world. We are still a very rich country...shucks, the DOW is at 13,000 and holding nicely and the GDP is $15.09 Trillion. That ain't hay, considering that 4 years ago we went through the worst recession since the Great Depression. If we can get the rich Mac-Daddies to get up off of some of their Cayman Islands cash and start hiring in the US, there would be a lot more folks spending money and the economy would self-heal. The government can only do so much. The last time I checked, the Total Direct Revenue that the US Treasury was taking in was still 32% of GDP. ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ Whether or not the money that KY gets is all or partially borrowed, may be the subject of some debate. With the interest rates as low as they are, borrowing money to stimulate the economy is not a bad thing. But for sure, this money KY gets is definitely redistributed from those more affluent BLUE States along the Left Coast, surrounding the Great Lakes region and in the Northeast. Why should these states have to carry our sorry Red State butts? Why are these Blue States more affluent to begin with? Could it be that they actually vote in their own best economic interest for progressive candidates who are much more adept at governing, unlike KY, who vote for the likes of Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell? Could it also be that the citizens in these states are better educated (smarter even?), better informed and thus, do not have the social problems that plague the Red States. ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ Where exactly do you propose that we "stop the crazy spending"? I suggest that spending 59% of our Discretionary Spending for Fiscal Year 2012 on the military is insane and not sustainable. We can no longer afford to be the world police. We can no longer afford to be into the business of nation building, which, let's face it, we suck at.

  • 1713, When you say the "Feds" provide $1.51 to KY for every $1 we send, and indicate that is benefitial (noting voting against "self-interest" re McConnell and Paul)you seem to take the stance that receiving these funds is good for KY. This money we receive is borrowed as well. On the state level, it comes in, but is no different than giving yourself a blood transfusion. The money comes in one arm, but the national debt that feeds that vein is coming from the other arm, with interest. We can no longer afford even the interest on these loans. We certainly can't pay on the principal without stopping the crazy spending. All while dancing a fine line of keeping employment up.

  • "Kentuckians are frugal, responsible people and understand the simple concept that expending more resources than you bring in is simply not sustainable." ............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ Really! Let's get real here. Kentuckians are cheap, financially irresponsible moochers who don't understand the simple concept that expending more resources than they bring in is simply not sustainable, and therefore, they are intractably addicted to federal dollars. The feds provide our state with $1.51 for every $1 of taxes that they send to Washington. Kentuckians stubbornly refuse to pass taxes that would pay for the essential services that we use which would make our state self-sufficient, preferring to live on the federal government teat. The irony here is that they also constantly complain about sending that measly $1 to the feds...thus biting the hand that feeds them. They amazingly vote against their own economic self-interest for guys like Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul who have avowed to stop sending that $1.51 for every $1 to our state. Kentuckians don't understand many "simple concepts" at their own peril...which has historically been the story of their lives. ............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ Until we get our own fiscal house in order, who are we to be trying to tell Washington how to run the country? Meanwhile, keep that milk flowing...slurp, slurp.

  • This country really does not have a debt problem, it has a jobs problem. Take care of the jobs problem and the debt problem will evaporate. It is simple arithmetic. The Republicans will not tell you this because they are using it to try to justify Paul Ryan's budget debacle, which ends Medicare as we know it, according to the Wall Street Journal. ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ The deficit needs to be trimmed no doubt, but not at the risk of austerity policies that could cause another recession. We can't afford to throw this country into another deep recession, when we are just treading water from the last one that they Bush Administration got us into (2 unfunded wars, unfunded prescription "D" drug plan, and 2 unfunded tax cuts that heavily favored the rich). For sure, the fuzzy math that the Republicans and their nominee Mitt Romney are proposing is NOT the answer...including the 20 percent across-the-board tax cut for everyone including the top 1%. Lies don't cut it either...like the one Romney uttered with a straight face at the debate, “I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don’t have a tax cut of a scale you’re talking about.” The Tax Policy Center analysis of Romney's proposal for this 20 percent across-the-board tax cut in all federal income tax rates, eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax, the estate tax and other reductions, says it would be a $5 trillion tax cut. This is not going to fix the deficit for sure! We can't afford a deficit reduction plan based on these lies.