It's time to fix the debt

Throughout our respective political careers, we have seen the damaging effects of partisan gridlock. Oftentimes when politicians engage in fierce debate on a contentious issue, they fail to recognize that it is ordinary citizens who suffer most from this counterproductive quarreling.

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But we are also aware of the momentous breakthroughs made possible due to lawmakers’ willingness to come together and achieve results on historically divisive issues. Whether it was the passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 during Marty’s tenure on the Ways and Means Committee or the enactment of the welfare reform law of 1996 while Tom was serving in the House, we understand that it is possible to overcome major challenges in a bipartisan fashion.

The country once again finds itself at a historic crossroads — a pivotal juncture where we have the chance to responsibly address the national debt. While we may disagree on the manner in which we stabilize and reduce the debt relative to the economy, we should all be in agreement on the fact that this problem cannot continue to wait on a resolution. In this instance, we simply cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Hardworking Illinoisans pay the price each time our elected leaders squander an opportunity to confront our debt burden. Excessive debt levels can cause inflation, resulting in the price of everyday products like gas and groceries to spike. And mounting debt means that interest rates are more likely to rise, making it harder for folks to access the funds needed to purchase larger items like a home or an automobile. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office has projected that, due to higher debt levels, interest rates could rise from 2 percent today to more than 5 percent later this decade. We must insist on responsible action from Congress and the administration to avoid these possible negative consequences that affect so many people — ordinary citizens just trying to make ends meet or build brighter future.

After much debate surrounding fiscal policy over the last few years we have managed to chip away at our mountain of debt in a piecemeal approach. While this tactic is better than doing nothing at all, it hasn’t been a very effective strategy for meaningful debt reduction. Having addressed all of the areas of the budget that are relatively easy to tweak, what remains are the complex issues of tax and entitlement reform. Our costly entitlements and inefficient tax code are what is fueling our debt problem, and, without reforms to both of these areas, any attempt to reduce our debt will be in vein.

It would be unfair to future generations and reckless on our part to have these vital social safety net programs become insolvent on our watch, or to leave hundreds of millions of dollars on the table by failing to eliminate distorting loopholes and deductions from our tax code.

For a while it looked as if we were headed nowhere fast in this effort. The revenue and savings that resulted from the “fiscal cliff” and budget “sequester” offer little hope for restoring the country’s economic footing. There have, however, been significant developments in the past few weeks that give us hope that an elusive “grand bargain” on a comprehensive debt deal is again attainable. President Obama has been reaching out to Republican members of Congress in what looks to be an attempt to open up a substantive dialogue on deficit and debt reduction. Also noteworthy was Congress’s ability to avoid a government shutdown by renewing the continuing resolution without waiting until the 11th hour to do so. These may seem like minor occurrences — things that should be happening routinely — but this progress gives us reason to be cautiously optimistic in light of the recent dysfunction that has plagued Washington.

We feel it is critical to build off of this recent momentum and use this window of opportunity to make a strong push for a bipartisan debt agreement that helps grow our economy both here in Illinois and throughout the country. In order to do our part we have joined the Campaign to Fix the Debt — a nationwide movement to get America’s economy back on track and better equipped to handle tomorrow’s challenges. We encourage you to visit FixTheDebt.org to join the more than 350,000 supporters who have already signed the Campaign’s Citizen’s Petition.

There is no doubt in our minds that the country is capable of finding common ground on our debt dilemma. We’ve overcome similar challenges before and we will do it again.


Ewing and Russo are members of the Congressional Fiscal Leadership Council on the Campaign to Fix the Debt.

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