As a Professor of Communication Studies, I am deeply interested in what people think of the world around them and how they communicate those beliefs. If you were to ask ten different people what they believed to be our country’s most pressing concern, you might get ten different responses. While one person may say income security for the elderly, another may be worried about declining investments in public education, and a third may express worry about economic inequality. What’s interesting to me is that these issues – and many, many more – are all part and parcel of an overriding concern, one that has me worried the most: the unsustainable trajectory of our enormous national debt.
Relative to the economy, the national debt is larger than it has been at any point since the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. And despite recent changes to cut spending and increase tax revenue, the debt is still anticipated to grow, and grow quickly in the years and decades ahead.
Our mountain of debt – despite it being an abstract, almost unfathomably large number – has real-world implications for all Americans. If it continues to increase, then we could see increased rates of inflation, interest, and even unemployment. Servicing the debt will take a larger and larger share of the federal budget. No matter where your public policy priorities lie – whether you think we need more money for research or education, or whether your priority is to keep tax rates where they are – they will get squeezed by the national debt, and soon.
As a professor at a public university, I am profoundly worried that the spigot of federal funding that goes toward research grants, not to mention tuition assistance, will run dry. It would be a travesty if our inability to deal with our debt led to college students having to pay more to receive less and less.
Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of our debt is politicians’ inability to deal with it. Instead of agreeing on the actions that pretty much everyone acknowledges need to be done – reduced spending on low-priority programs, new revenue through a structurally-reformed tax code and fundamental reforms to our increasingly-expensive entitlement programs – our leaders in Washington seem to be negotiating like 5-year olds; if they don’t get everything they want, they just sulk in a corner.
Because reducing our deficit and controlling our debt is so important – and because Washington needs to know that people around the country are demanding action – I took part in a trip to our nation’s capital this past July as part of the Campaign to Fix the Debt. A national, non-profit and bipartisan group, Fix the Debt organized citizen-activists from 19 states to collectively take part in 73 different meetings on Capitol Hill. I personally met with Georgia’s Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Rep. Paul Broun, Rep. Tom Price and an aide to Sen. Johnny Isakson. I also took part in a meeting with the White House Office of Public Engagement. Each of these meetings left me with the feeling that folks in Washington really are listening to us, and that they do want to find a deal to start taking control of our debt. I commend each of these offices for coming to the meetings with their ears open to our concerns.
In addition to the other successes in the trip, I was incredibly impressed with the Campaign to Fix the Debt and extended my praise to each staffer during my time there. This trip further confirmed for me how the debt is already making our economy unpredictable, which is affecting all of us, no matter what we look like or our station in life. To that end, I was very pleased to see the political diversity of the coalition joining me in representing Fix the Debt.
I am now more than ever convinced that everyone can and should get involved in this issue. Our leaders in Washington truly do respond to their constituents’ concerns. I firmly believe that if they knew just how much folks in their districts wanted them to deal with the debt, then they would realize that it would be good politics, as well as good policy, to reach across the aisle and come to an agreement. I urge you to check out the Campaign to Fix the Debt (www.fixthedebt.org) to learn more. The only way we can fix this is to come together through a unity across party lines.
Dr. Tina Harris is a Professor of Communications Studies at the University of Georgia.
Reprinted with permission of ZPolitics. Get more at www.zpolitics.com. Copyright 2013.