A loom­ing fis­cal cri­sis

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - PERSPECTIVE - By Jim Slattery and Chris Gibson

Lead­ers owe vot­ers ac­tion on debt, not pos­tur­ing

first glance, all seems well with our na­tional econ­omy. Gross do­mes­tic prod­uct growth is ex­ceed­ing 3 per­cent and wages are ris­ing. Com­pa­nies re­port strong earn­ings. Un­em­ploy­ment is at 50-year lows. The stock market, while volatile, is near record highs.

All of this be­lies the ex­is­ten­tial dan­gers lurk­ing.

The re­al­ity is that our ex­cep­tional way of life is threat­ened by a nearly

$22 tril­lion debt and pro­jected tril­lion­dol­lar deficits for as far as the eye can see. This comes at a time when our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is bro­ken, and our na­tional lead­ers are seem­ingly in­ca­pable of com­ing to­gether to solve our most press­ing prob­lems.

His­tory has not been kind to coun­tries that com­pile mas­sive debt. Renowned Scot­tish philoso­pher David Hume once said, “A Na­tion must de­stroy its debt or debt will de­stroy the Na­tion.” The Ro­man Em­pire and Soviet Union, among oth­ers, ex­pe­ri­enced this fate.

That is why we, a Demo­crat from Kansas and a Repub­li­can from New York, came to­gether re­cently to do a se­ries of events in the Al­bany area to high­light th­ese chal­lenges and to pro­vide a road map to over­come our na­tional debt, di­vi­sion and dys­func­tion.

Re­gard­less of our pol­i­tics, Amer­i­cans have al­ways be­lieved in the Amer­i­can Dream — the idea that each of us has a God-given right to rise to our po­ten­tial to en­joy a f lour­ish­ing life and that it is our high­est re­spon­si­bil­ity to leave our chil­dren in a stronger position than we in­her­ited. On that sec­ond point, we are clearly fail­ing. Un­less we change course, we will face a debt spi­ral that will bank­rupt the na­tion, rob our chil­dren of their fu­ture, and deny them the Amer­i­can Dream.

Dur­ing our re­spec­tive tenures in Con­gress, we worked to bring the coun­try to­gether to pro­mote pros­per­ity and fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity. Rep. Slattery helped shape the 1986 tax re­form ef­fort, a tremen­dous bi­par­ti­san achieve­ment be­tween Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan and a Demo­cratic Con­gress. Rep. Gibson helped shape the Bud­get Con­trol Act, which played a ma­jor role in re­duc­ing the an­nual deficit by 70 per­cent in 2015 from its height in 2009.

Un­for­tu­nately, we are head­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion again.

The deficit has dou­bled since 2015 and is on pace to nearly triple in the next decade. With in­ter­est rates now re­turn­ing to his­toric lev­els af­ter a decade of quan­ti­ta­tive eas­ing, na­tional in­ter­est pay­ments on the debt are on course to crest over a tril­lion dol­lars a year within a decade. That is a moral outrage, as it squeezes out nec­es­sary in­vest­ments for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, and will re­sult in re­ces­sion, low growth rates, fewer jobs and de­clin­ing wages and qual­ity of life for work­ing-class Amer­i­cans.

We sim­ply must change course. We are ad­vo­cat­ing for a bud­get com­pro­mise in the spirit of the Simp­son­bowles deficit re­duc­tion com­mis­sion plan of 2010. Rep. Gibson was one of just 38 mem­bers who voted for that bud­get in 2012. It’s a shame we did not adopt that com­pro­mise bud­get then, as we’d be at a bal­anced bud­get now.

The Simp­son-bowles ap­proach is progrowth and fis­cally re­spon­si­ble. It is also fair. It puts ev­ery­thing on the ta­ble and, as we have done with ev­ery other ex­is­ten­tial threat to our coun­try in past in­clud­ing World War II, it asks more of all Amer­i­cans.

It’s the only way we will get back to a bal­anced bud­get and safe­guard our chil­dren’s fu­ture.

Un­for­tu­nately, our elected lead­ers are not likely to vote for the kind of change we need un­less we de­mand that they do so. Our per­pet­ual two-year elec­tion cy­cle, the sig­nif­i­cant spike in cam­paign spend­ing and ger­ry­man­dered dis­tricts pro­duce po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion, grid­lock and com­pletely un­re­al­is­tic and ir­re­spon­si­ble fis­cal plans. Even now, with nearly $22 tril­lion in debt, the only ma­jor leg­is­la­tion en­acted in the 115th Con­gress sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased spend­ing, while re­duc­ing rev­enues to give corporations and hig­h­earn­ers a mas­sive tax cut.

While it’s true many in the mid­dle class saw a very mod­est tax cut, the re­al­ity is the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the tax cuts went to very high-earn­ers and corporations, and be­tween that and the in­creased spend­ing, we’ve ex­ac­er­bated our fis­cal cri­sis. Within two years, the pro­jected an­nual deficit will top a tril­lion dol­lars with no re­lief in sight. It’s com­pletely un­sus­tain­able.

We need po­lit­i­cal and bud­getary re­form now, be­fore it’s too late.

We ask that read­ers reach out to their re­spec­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tives and se­na­tors to de­mand they take re­spon­si­ble ac­tion that bal­ances the bud­get. Strik­ing a balance be­tween cur­rent and fu­ture needs will en­sure fu­ture gen­er­a­tions get to en­joy the Amer­i­can Dream. Let’s not let them down.

His­tory has not been kind to coun­tries that com­pile mas­sive debt. Renowned Scot­tish philoso­pher David Hume once said, “A Na­tion must de­stroy its debt or debt will de­stroy the Na­tion.” The Ro­man Em­pire and Soviet Union, among oth­ers, ex­pe­ri­enced this fate.

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