Comprehensive solution on debt is available if we compromise
By Bill Ritter
Here in Colorado, we are ahead of the curve on many public policy issues that other parts of the country call intractable. There’s a pragmatic optimism in Colorado that leads us to find sensible solutions and compromises on tough issues and move forward when others dig in their heels, putting ideology over progress.
I served as governor when the national economy crashed in 2008 and early 2009. We had to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the state budget, and we had to find additional revenues where we could. We balanced the budget, even in the toughest economic times since the Great Depression.
I approached these tough decisions with several principles in mind: There had to be shared sacrifice and shared solutions; cuts had to make sense and be fair; and we had to do all we could to protect investments in our future.
These concepts seem to be lost on much of official Washington these days. Some of our leaders seem to have forgotten that governing for the people is about more than sticking your thumb in the other side’s eye at every opportunity. It’s about fighting for your principles, yes, but it’s also about recognizing when the need to compromise for the benefit of the whole country trumps each politician’s interests and ideologies.
There are a few in Washington, however, who do get it. Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, a Republican, and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, a Democrat, are two great examples. While much of the rest of Washington seems to think that the problem of how to come together to resolve our country’s fiscal problems is an unsolvable one, Simpson and Bowles continue time and time again to show us a common-sense way forward that should be acceptable to both sides.
The common wisdom is right in one respect: Our growing national debt is a huge problem for this country, and we must come up with a plan to address it or risk a fiscal crisis. Our debt has been climbing rapidly over the past decade, and it now stands at nearly twice as high (relative to our economy) as its average since the end of World War II.
This kind of debt threatens to lead to climbing rates of inflation, interest and even unemployment, at a time when our recovering economy and millions of out-of-work Americans can’t afford it. Worst of all, the growing costs of our entitlement programs and other mandatory spending threaten to crowd out the other policy priorities we have.
Despite the general agreement that this is a problem we need to address as a nation, if you listen to the overheated rhetoric coming out of Washington, you might think that’s the only thing upon which the two parties agree. But that’s just not the case. There are many policies that both parties now agree to, if they would only take a step back for a moment.
That’s where Simpson and Bowles come in. The two most respected proponents of fiscal responsibility recently put out an updated plan that shows just how close both parties are to a comprehensive agreement that puts our country on a firmer fiscal footing for the foreseeable future.
Such a comprehensive solution will require more compromise from both sides to go the final distance to the finish line, but it is within reach. This solution will need to address all areas of our budget, including reform of our outdated tax code to raise revenue while making America more competitive. It will also require smart cuts to duplicative and wasteful spending to replace the sequester, as well as reform to our entitlement programs to ensure they remain sustainable for future beneficiaries while protecting those who rely on them today.
I applaud Simpson and Bowles for putting together a comprehensive plan that shows us just how such a plan could work.
I urge all Coloradans who care about the fiscal health of our country to join the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a national nonpartisan movement of hundreds of thousands of citizen-activists across the country who are coming together to push our leaders in Washington toward a common-sense deal that puts our economy back on track, like the one recently proposed by Simpson and Bowles.
As Coloradans, we can show the rest of the country that common-sense compromise is good politics as well as good policy. We can show our leaders in Washington that putting the national interest ahead of special interests is the best way to govern and the best way to ensure that our generation leaves a positive legacy and leaves America stronger for future generations.
Bill Ritter, Jr., served as Colorado’s governor from 2007 to 2011. Learn more about the Campaign to Fix the Debt and sign the petition at http://www.fixthedebt.org.