Today our country faces another growing threat to our national security. As former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said, “the most significant threat to our national security is our debt.” While this is a different kind of threat than the one we faced some 71 years ago, it nonetheless threatens the livelihoods of all Americans, and we will only be able to address it if we can all come together to find a way forward.
For the past decade, our country has been borrowing and spending at a reckless rate. The publicly-held portion of our national debt has steadily risen from its historical average of about 40 percent of GDP since the end of World War II to over 70 percent of GDP today, and continues to rise. Last year alone, our federal government spent $454 billion just servicing our existing debt — that’s more than it spent on housing, education, agriculture and transportation combined. In less than a month we also face the “fiscal cliff,” an arbitrary deadline Congress and the President set for themselves to agree on an intelligent solution to our debt problems — an intelligent solution that still remains elusive.
Unless our elected leaders can agree on a real solution to our debt problems, the fiscal cliff threatens to sap $600 billion from our economy in tax increases and spending cuts in 2013 alone, which experts predict would send us into a double-dip recession. While the solution we are looking for must include both revenue increases and spending cuts, the taxes and cuts of the fiscal cliff are not the way to do it – we need a smarter plan.
In addition to targeted, intelligent cuts in spending and revenue increases through reform of our tax code, a real solution should be planned now but enacted gradually, in order to avoid the kind of sudden shock to the economy prescribed in the fiscal cliff. Most importantly, a real solution must reform our entitlement systems to ensure that they can continue to deliver to future beneficiaries on the promises they make today, and it must be a big enough plan to put our debt on a sustainable path. In order to find a way forward, our country needs to come together to tell our leaders that we want a solution. We need to tell them that we understand that there are no easy solutions to these problems, and that we understand that they will have to make hard choices. That is why we have joined the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a nonpartisan coalition of budget experts, business leaders, veterans, academics and concerned citizens from across the country that seeks to let our leaders know that the time for a solution is now. With political and special interest groups threatening to oust any politician that crosses the aisle, cooler heads must prevail. We need to let our leaders know that we support them in finding a solution, even if the solution causes some pain. As veterans we advocate for no unnecessary cuts to veterans programs and our national defense, but we understand there are no sacred cows and that compromise and shared sacrifice is needed.
One of the greatest things about America is our history of coming together to face our toughest challenges as a nation, not as individuals. We urge all Americans to join the campaign at FixTheDebt.org, sign their Citizen’s Petition, and get involved by calling your Representatives, Senators, and President Obama. Let them know that we support them in coming together and making hard decisions for the good of the country. Let them know it’s time to fix the debt.
Prestanski is the executive director of Ohio Veterans United. Miller is former chairman of the National Coordinating Committee, National Association for Black Veterans (NABVETS), Inc.