Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Marc Goldwein: Hard Choices Required to Address Looming Debt

Oct 16, 2013

The prolonged government shutdown and debt ceiling debate are a clear indication that our government is not functioning as it should. Furloughed workers, closed national parks, and shuttered government offices are the byproduct of an unwillingness to compromise by our elected officials. In an editorial in the South Bend Tribune, CRFB Senior Policy Director Marc Goldwein takes our leaders to task for failing to address the national debt, projected to rise uncontrollably over the long run. Goldwein explains that lawmakers have only scratched the surface of what needs to be done to ensure fiscal sustainability:

As my old boss Erskine Bowles likes to explain, our leaders have done the easy stuff -- raising taxes on the top 1 percent of Americans. They've done the sneaky stuff -- capping defense and non-defense discretionary spending so future lawmakers can identify the specific cuts. They've even done the stupid stuff -- allowing a deep, abrupt, across-the-board cut to all the programs not causing our debt to grow through something called "sequestration."

What our leaders haven't done is the hard stuff. What they haven't done is worked together to reach principled compromise on a plan that neither side loves, but both know would be a win for the American people.

We've always known what reforms were needed and how important it is to address the long-term growth of debt before it's too late. Any serious deal must encompass both entitlement and tax reform, as Goldwein notes. He believes that by working together to create a bipartisan plan, lawmakers can responsibly tackle our biggest challenge:

The solutions are relatively straightforward: bend the health care cost curve by improving the way we pay for medicine and changing incentives for providers and beneficiaries; make Social Security solvent by slowing the growth for wealthier beneficiaries, adjusting for growing life expectancy and bringing in new revenue from those who can afford it; reform the tax code by cutting many of the $1.3 trillion of annual tax preferences and using the money to lower rates and deficits; and replacing the mindless cuts of the sequester with thoughtful cuts to wasteful and low-priority programs.

But those solutions are hard. They require Democrats to take on their base and pursue entitlement reforms. They require Republicans to break their pledges and support new revenue. And they require both sides to put the next generation ahead of the next election.

Despite the hard choices required, Goldwein remains hopeful that lawmakers can rise to the challenge:

We face before us a choice. Either both sides can stop the blame game and come together on a plan to fix the debt. Or we can keep jumping from crisis to crisis without ever solving the problem. We are a great nation, and it is time we start acting like one. The alternative is to continue walking toward oblivion.

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