It’s easy to see why. A significant portion of our debt – $4 trillion – is held by countries like China and Saudi Arabia with whom we have crucial foreign policy relationships. These commitments are a burden when negotiating with these nations and go a long way in weakening our image internationally. Our debt also puts future generations of Americans at an unfair disadvantage in the global economy. Moreover, unless we bend down the debt’s skyrocketing trajectory, we will soon be on the hook for a trillion dollars a year in interest payments. This money will come at the expense of the budgetary flexibility our military needs to respond to unforseen situations and to keep our country safe.
We must act if we hope to prevent our national debt from ballooning to even greater heights, and we must act soon. On January 1, we are set to topple off the“fiscal cliff” – a result of the automatic spending cuts and tax increases that, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, could remove an estimated $600 billion from our economy and push us into another recession next year. We also need to ensure we have a strong national defense and need to be both strategic and efficient in ensuring we have the best military in the world.
Many experts believe that if Congress does not demonstrate the leadership needed to avert the cliff while also coming to a long-term agreement to stabalize the debt, we could be headed for another credit downgrade. The ambiguity surrounding this potentially devastating situation already has investors and businesses scaling back new investments and hiring. Instead of these drastic cuts, we need a more gradual, targeted plan that provides the markets cover to adapt to the needed changes rather than an “everything, all at once” approach.
Our leaders cannot ignore this issue any longer. We must begin drawing down our national debt as a share of the economy, and that begins with avoiding the fiscal cliff. Everyone needs to be aware this process will include tough choices and sacrifice. Just as with military service, we need to adopt a selfless approach if we are going to overcome this challenge. The drivers of our debt – spending (including for entitlement programs) and our outdated tax code –need to be closely examined so that we understand areas where reforms are possible. Policymakers have to begin acknowledging that our growing debt is a serious hazard to our economic health and our national security.
There is a group that recognizes the urgency of this situation and understands that inaction is no longer an option. The Campaign to Fix the Debt is a nonpartisan, grassroots movement composed of a variety of supporters representing all facets of American society, including the business community, major domestic advocacy organizations, former policymakers, organized labor, veterans and nearly 300,000 concerned citizens from across the country. I would encourage you to visit FixTheDebt.org to sign the campaign’s Citizen’s Petition and become part of the solution.
We performed military service because we believe deeply in the fundamental ideals our country represents and that it is the duty of every citizen to do his or her part in preserving our nation’s principles. In these difficult economic times, that includes calling on Congress and the President to make the difficult but essential choices necessary to usher in a new era of American prosperity and working together to ensure they heed this call. The future of the country we all love depends on it.
Harbaugh is a former U.S. Navy combat reconnaissance pilot and executive director of Service Nation. McGinn is a retired vice admiral of the U.S. Navy. McGraw is a retired U.S. Army colonel. Greitens is lieutenant commander, U.S. Navy SEAL, Missouri. Gordon is a former deputy under secretary of Defense.