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Fixing the federal debt demands a comprehensive approach

Former Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe (Cronkite News Servict photo by Mary Shinn)

Our federal budget is on a destructive and dangerous path. It is vital for our leaders to find a solution to our $17 trillion national debt, or the next generation of Americans will inherit a country in a deeply dysfunctional state.

If we continue down this path, America will be unable to act on promises made in the past or to invest in our future, and those in the millennial generation will be stuck with more debt, higher taxes, fewer jobs and a lower standard of living. Lawmakers need to muster political courage and begin to rebuild our fiscal house.

A comprehensive approach will be necessary to lower our federal deficit, and our leaders in Washington should take note. Such an approach means tackling the real drivers of the debt, protecting high-value investments, and asking for shared sacrifice from every American.

Non-defense discretionary spending — a category that includes funding for education, infrastructure and research — has taken the brunt of the cuts so far through measures like the sequester. All the while, programs like Medicare and Social Security — which account for nearly all the growth in future federal spending — remain untouched. Any meaningful measure will tackle both the spending and revenue sides of the equation, but we all must accept that everything will have to be on the table for broad, bipartisan compromise to take place.

We need to achieve, at the minimum, $2.4 trillion in additional deficit reduction over the next decade to ensure our debt is on a downward path relative to the economy, and this can only be done by reforming our tax system and entitlement programs.

The first step is to understand the actual size and future impact of our fiscal imbalance and how policy changes distribute the benefits and burdens not only on one generation but among all generations. Congress can do this by passing a proposal put forth by The Can Kicks Back to instate generational accounting analysis, which would show the effect of policy changes to members of different age groups.

Many of the proposals that come out of Washington do not affect middle-aged Americans since reforms are phased in. Although such proposals are politically more favorable to an influential voting bloc, lawmakers cannot ignore the burden facing the next generation. Indeed, they must not only consider this constituency’s concerns, but also invite its leaders to testify before relevant committees. Young people deserve to have their voices heard on this critical issue, as they truly have the most to lose.

If we wait much longer to address these problems, the solutions we’ll be forced to enact will only be more disruptive and more visible, as the damage will have already been done. According to the Congressional Budget Office, over the next decade, the United States will spend $5.4 trillion on interest payments on the national debt, and $847 billion in 2023 alone.

Republicans and Democrats alike share the responsibility of addressing our fiscal problems now to ensure future generations of Americans do not inherit them. Kicking the can down the road for the next generation shows that our political leaders are unwilling to take political responsibility, and we urge Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake to lead on this critical issue.

Both of us — a member of the Arizona chapter of The Can Kicks Back and a former member of Congress from Arizona and member of the Congressional Fiscal Leadership Council at the Campaign to Fix the Debt — want to leave a legacy of prosperous fiscal stewardship for the next generation. We strive to ensure that today’s leaders seriously understand the consequences of their fiscal decisions and that tomorrow’s leaders are given a chance to weigh in on issues that will affect them in the decades to come. We urge you to learn more about The Can Kicks Back (www.thecankicksback.org) and the Campaign to Fix the Debt (www.fixthedebt.org).

— Jim Kolbe is a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona. Devin Del Palacio is a member of the Arizona chapter of The Can Kicks Back.

3 comments

  1. Fix the Debt is astroturf concocted by billionaires who want to renege on the $3 trillion owed to the Social Security trust fund. Don’t be fooled by their propaganda and their attempts to pit generations against each other!

    If we really want to reduce debt and secure a sustainable future for young people, here’s what needs to happen:

    1) Bring the country to full employment and raise the minimum wage. That would greatly reduce the need for public assistance programs, which are basically subsidies to low wage employers like Walmart.

    2) Fix and upgrade fraying infrastructure all over the country. It would create jobs and eliminate the worry of the bridge you’re driving across collapsing.

    3) Address the exorbitant cost of college so that the American Dream is available broadly across the economic spectrum.

    4) Knock off the phony debt hysteria and stop kicking the can on climate change, which actually threatens civilization.

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