This column was reprinted with permission of Zpolitics.com.
As we finally emerge from what was simply the most recent in a long series of short-term fiscal crises, it is abundantly clear what our leaders in Washington should do to prevent themselves from governing on the edge of a cliff in the future: they must stop the madness of shutdowns and showdowns, start earnest bipartisan negotiations and solve the problem of our unsustainable national debt once and for all.
The just-concluded fiscal near-disaster proves that short-sighted political gamesmanship produces very few winners, and a whole bunch of losers. Worse still, such crises divert attention from the real issues that are driving our debt over the long term – namely our outdated tax code and our ever-more-costly entitlement programs.
The only thing our leaders in Washington won for themselves with this fiasco is more time – time that they must consider their last opportunity for finally confronting our national debt.
It’s undeniable that our debt is a huge – and growing – problem. Relative to the size of the economy, our debt is larger than it has been at any time since the immediate aftermath of World War II. And, even with shrinking deficits over the past couple of years, it is projected to start growing again, unchecked, to unprecedented levels. Such elevated debt levels have been associated with higher rates of interest, inflation and unemployment, not to mention slower economic growth and greater risk of a debt-fueled fiscal crisis.
Moreover, Americans understand that the national debt is problematic. In a recent poll we commissioned with prominent Democratic and Republican pollsters, a plurality of respondents said that the debt was the single most pressing issue Washington must tackle – more than jobs, immigration reform or health care.
The poll also showed that dealing with the debt in a comprehensive, gradual manner, Americans are willing to make personal sacrifices for the sake of long-term deficit reduction. When paired with cuts to wasteful and low-priority programs, enacting deficit-reducing reforms to our entitlement programs and revenue-enhancing reforms of our tax code are broadly popular. There are a variety of proposed common sense deficit-reducing provisions that could garner the political common ground.
That we must take on the true drivers of our debt – and that Americans understand this – is why the Campaign to Fix the Debt firmly believes that making tough choices to reduce the deficit is good politics in addition to good policy. Fix the Debt has enlisted hundreds of thousands of citizen-activists – including civic leaders, academic economists, small business leaders and corporate executives – to let Congress know that what their constituents want is the policy certainty and economic stability that a comprehensive deficit-reduction agreement would bring about.
The time for our elected leaders to be worrying about short-term political gains has long since passed – if it ever existed at all. Now, they must use this latest opportunity to stop all of the fruitless chicanery, start honest negotiations and solve our fiscal problems – before they get even worse than they were last week.
Maya MacGuineas is President of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and head of the Campaign to Fix the Debt.