Senator Saxby Chambliss, along with Senator Mark Warner, have been leading a bi-partisan group to look at potential structural changes to the tax code, entitlements, spending, and any other elements that comprise the federal budget deficits. Today, the two released the following Op-Ed:
It’s Time To Make Tough Choices
All of the talk about short-term spending resolutions and potential gridlock in Congress might lead you to believe we have lost an opportunity for serious action on our country’s longer-range deficits and debt.
However, we remain convinced that our country is at a critically important moment.
Since this economic downturn began, families across America have had to make tough choices to make ends meet. It is time for Washington to do the same.
As a Republican elected from Georgia and a Democrat from Virginia, we have been working in a bipartisan partnership to seize this opportunity to get our fiscal house in order for the long term.
Since last summer, we have been working together to make this a priority in Washington. We are working with a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues to try to turn the recommendations of the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform into legislation.
The bipartisan commission spent much of last year exploring issues surrounding our short-term deficits and longer-term debt, and made a series of recommendations that will address these challenges in a responsible way. Unfortunately, the commission fell three votes short of achieving the supermajority required to send those recommendations to Congress for an up-or-down vote.
Here are the facts:
Our current national debt stands at more than $14 trillion. If adopted in full, the commission’s recommendations would gradually reduce that debt by $4 trillion over the next 10 years.
Unfortunately, the current debate is too often centered on deep cuts in short-term, discretionary and nonmilitary spending, which only makes up about 12 percent of the overall federal budget.
The simple fact is, drastic and even painful cuts to these individual programs alone will not fix our larger structural budget problems.
We believe we must address these fiscal challenges in a more comprehensive and responsible way. We should work together to control government spending, simplify our tax code and begin to eliminate our deficits.
That is the only way we will be able to fix our nation’s balance sheet over the long term.
The deficit commission’s recommendations, while far from perfect, represent a courageous first step in tackling our national debt in ways that will make our nation competitive for the 21st century:
• The commission laid out a plan to accelerate health care savings in Medicare and Medicaid, and it provides a responsible road map to strengthen Social Security for the next 75 years. The commission’s plan protects Social Security, and does not use Social Security funds to balance the budget.
• The math is indisputable: In 1950, there were 16 workers for every Social Security recipient. Today, it’s two-and-a-half workers per beneficiary. And let’s acknowledge this: When Social Security was started in 1935 and the retirement age initially was set at 65, the average life expectancy was 62. Today, average life expectancy is approaching 80.
• The commission’s proposals dramatically simplify a tax system in serious need of an overhaul. It proposes closing loopholes and doing away with, or amending, some income-tax deductions while simultaneously lowering overall tax rates on families and businesses. And remember: 70 percent of individual tax filers today do not itemize deductions, so those taxpayers ultimately would benefit from lower overall income-tax rates.
• It puts everything on the table, including entitlement programs and defense spending. We believe that this has to be part of the discussion, too.
As you might imagine, various political opponents and special-interest groups already are mobilizing to short-circuit our work on this legislation, which demonstrates why this has always been such a difficult challenge.
It also shows why Washington’s typical political response has always been to push the tough choices to another day. Yet every day we put off these difficult decisions, an average of $4 billion is
added to the national debt.
Every dollar that we spend simply paying the interest on our nation’s staggering debt is disappearing into a fiscal sinkhole. These are resources that cannot be targeted toward creating jobs, expanding the U.S. economy or addressing any of our other shared priorities.
While there are plenty of recommendations in the commission’s plan that we would not have chosen, this much is clear to the members of our bipartisan coalition: We simply cannot postpone this difficult discussion any longer.
What we’re suggesting is a thoughtful, reasonable, phased-in approach that acknowledges we’re in a hole and stops digging. It puts in place a responsible plan of our own design and on our own timeline.
If we do this right, we can send a powerful, bipartisan signal to the rest of the world and to global financial markets that the United States finally is serious about getting its fiscal act together.
It also will position America to better compete, and ultimately win, in the global economy.