Op-Ed: "We Need Growth, and Growth Requires Reform"

The New York Times | August 29, 2012

Getting our economy growing is our most pressing economic problem. But there can be no sustainable economic growth as long as we face America’s enormous debt overhang. If we don’t put our nation’s fiscal house in order, we face the most predictable economic crisis in history.

Solving this economic crisis the right way means avoiding the large, immediate, indiscriminate cuts and tax increases that are on the horizon, from the “sequestration” deal.

We should be careful not to cut too deep too soon. But failing to deal with the debt is the real risk we just plain can’t afford.

One of the key principles set out by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which I co-chaired with former Senator Alan Simpson, was that a debt-reduction plan must be phased in gradually so as not to disrupt a very fragile economic recovery.

Our commission’s plan would reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next decade, but would do so in a way that encourages, rather than hinders, economic growth and stability.

The real short-term risk to the economy isn't a carefully thought-out deficit reduction plan, but the mindless spending cuts and tax increases — known as the “fiscal cliff” — that are scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of next year.

Allowing those deep and abrupt measures to occur would put us into a double-dip recession. At the same time, continuing on our current path by punting these measures would send a dangerous message to the markets that America is not willing or able to deal with our debt.

The only responsible course of action is to replace the fiscal cliff with a gradual and thoughtful plan to save at least $4 trillion over the next decade and put the deficit on a clear downward path relative to the economy.

Such a plan can lay the foundation for sustained economic growth through a combination of debt reduction, comprehensive tax reform, and maintenance of important investments in education, infrastructure, and high-value research and development.

We should be careful not to cut too deep too soon. But failing to deal with the debt is the real risk we just plain can’t afford.

Op-Ed: "A Problem Too Big for Small Solutions"

The New York Times | August 29, 2012

The federal debt is the nation’s most pressing economic problem because our dangerously high debt levels are a threat on every issue — be it jobs, growth, competitiveness or public under-investment. The deficit is already harming the economy, and could eventually lead to a devastating fiscal crisis.

To suggest we must decide between debt reduction and economic recovery is to present a false choice. To the contrary, we cannot achieve one without the other. The key will be to implement a comprehensive debt deal large enough to fix the problem, phased in gradually enough so as not to derail the recovery, and designed to promote economic growth through reforms to the tax code and cuts in government spending that protect productive government investments.

We must be willing to reform all parts of the budget, including health care, Social Security, defense and taxes.

The upcoming fiscal cliff will soon cause the moment of reckoning. If we hurdle ourselves off the cliff, doing too much deficit reduction, too fast, and in the wrong ways, we will plunge the nation back into recession; whereas if we punt, we will surely endure further downgrades and quite possibly frighten credit markets into no longer favoring the U.S.

Instead, we must be willing to use this moment as the first step of putting in place a comprehensive debt deal. We will have to be willing to reform all parts of the budget — including health care, Social Security, defense and taxes. Doing so would not only be good policy, but good politics. Already, more than 140,000 Americans have signed a petition called Fix the Debt, asking our leaders to pass a comprehensive debt plan.

Any plan will have to be bipartisan, because quite frankly this will be just too hard for either party to do alone. And if we let the presidential election deteriorate into political posturing, we will make the job of passing the needed reforms even harder. It’s not enough for the candidates to accuse each other of touching the budget’s sacred cows; they must present their realistic plans to fix the debt — plans in which those sacred cows will have to be touched.

Changes will have to be made. We can do it on our own terms, or we can wait until we are hit with a crisis and are forced to — as we have seen in Greece and Portugal. Let’s hope our leaders are willing to come together to fix the debt while we still have time.

Op-Ed: 'Fix the Debt' Campaign Comes to Idaho

Coeur d'Alene Press | August 16, 2012

With the election season moving into higher gear and a “fiscal cliff” on the economic horizon, the American public will be hearing more and more about the crushing debt our country faces. As it happens, Idaho is extremely lucky to have two Members of Congress, Senator Mike Crapo and Representative Mike Simpson, who have been spearheading a growing, bipartisan charge to tackle the issue.

That’s why I was honored to be joining these two leaders in Boise to discuss the work of the Campaign to Fix the Debt. We launched the campaign in July as a non-partisan push to put America on a better fiscal and economic path. Members of the campaign have come together from a variety of social, economic and political perspectives, united around a common belief that America’s growing federal debt threatens our future prosperity and that we must address it.

Over the coming months, we will mobilize key communities—including leaders from business, government, and policy—and voters all across America to urge our elected officials step up and solve our nation’s serious fiscal challenges by passing a comprehensive deficit reduction plan.

Luckily, courage and leadership on this issue are not exclusive to the Idaho delegation. Senator Crapo and Representative Simpson are part of a small but expanding circle of lawmakers from both houses of Congress and both sides of the aisle who are willing to discuss, and seek common ground on, the hard choices necessary to set us on a sustainable budget track.

The case for action on this front is stark. Public debt is equal to more than 70 percent of the U.S. economy and is on track to rise well over 100 and 200 percent in the next few decades. That’s way above historical levels we’ve experienced here in the U.S., where debt has averaged about 40 percent of our economy, and way above levels economists consider to be safe.

The corrosive effects of such deep debt threaten our standard of living and our fitful recovery from the Great Recession. Unchecked, it will almost certainly mean higher interest rates throughout the economy. That will make it much harder to buy a new car, buy a new house, or start a new business. It will also make the cost of everyday activities more expensive. On a national scale, this translates into a slower economy, with fewer jobs and lower wages.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Since its launch a few weeks ago, our campaign has been getting a great deal of attention and support. I can tell you from the emails, letters, phone calls and Tweets we receive that the American people are hungry for an adult conversation on what we are up against and how we can fix the debt.

I am often asked what everyday people can do to influence this crucial debate. My answer is to (1) thank those elected officials who have already committed themselves to the cause and (2) make sure, during the fall campaign and beyond, to press candidates and officeholders to explain exactly what they will do to fix America’s finances and avoid saddling our children and grandchildren with a crippling debt burden. I also encourage them to sign up to receive more information on the issue and join the cause at www.FixTheDebt.org.

Despite all of the roadblocks and inertia that confront those seeking to bring people together, across party lines, to find common ground on this issue, I am convinced that it can and will happen. But not without a groundswell of grassroots support that lets every politician know that kicking the fiscal can down the road is no longer acceptable—and may be harmful to their political health.

While there certainly are brave lawmakers in Washington trying to forge a bipartisan consensus on debt reduction, we’re not there yet. We need every American’s help to get a meaningful deal done. In the past, this country’s greatest challenges have inspired some of our finest moments. I am confident that this can be one of those moments.

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