We must get out of 'govern-by-crisis' mode

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It’s about time. We’ve been stuck in a “govern-by-crisis” mode for too long; with the most recent deadline in the rearview mirror, our leaders now have an opportunity to take a sober look at all the options on the table. Now is their chance to start the kind of serious dialogue and negotiations that are needed to finally get a deal done.

Make no mistake – this will not be easy. As the budgets recently put out by the House and Senate make clear, this is a discussion of how we prioritize our spending and taxation policy – indeed, about how the government and citizens relate to each other – and both sides have strong views on these matters. But this is a conversation worth having, and putting a comprehensive plan down on paper will ease the burden of uncertainty now dragging on everyone in our economy.

A plan that addresses these issues in a serious way must stabilize our debt and put us on a path to reduce it as a percentage of our economy over the long term. Though the concrete benefits of such a deal would be realized most over decades, a serious plan that replaces the “sequester” spending cuts with smarter, targeted cuts that phase in over the next few years, rather than hitting abruptly now, would be good for the economy today, and could undo the damage to our recovery that the sequester cuts are now doing.

A comprehensive plan will require a serious bipartisan effort, and must include smart reforms to our entitlement systems to rein in the growth of costs in our healthcare system and make sure that these vital programs remain strong for those who need them most. It must bend down cost curves over the long term but should allow any changes to phase in gradually, so that those in or close to retirement are protected, while those still far away from it can count on these programs being there when they need them.

A comprehensive plan must also include structural reform to our outdated tax code – reform that encourages entrepreneurship and growth in our economy. It must close loopholes and reduce tax expenditures to make the tax code more transparent, while ensuring that the distribution of the tax burden is fair and that everyone pays his or her fair share.

Above all, such a plan must provide a stable policy environment, which would set the stage for a stronger economic recovery and growth in businesses large and small. If our politicians are able to finally come together and address our rising debt in a serious way, the new climate of stability would be especially beneficial for the drivers of our economic growth, our small business owners. Small businesses have been hurt the most from the current atmosphere of fiscal uncertainty, because they require some semblance of stability to be able to make key decisions – such as when to hire, when to expand or when to cut back – that allow their businesses to flourish.

The Campaign to Fix the Debt – a national, bipartisan organization geared toward convincing our leaders that deficit reduction is good politics in addition to good policy – is fighting to push our elected representatives toward making such a deal, which would put America back on the path to growth and prosperity, and reduce the burden that our debt puts on future generations. I urge all Americans everywhere to help by calling your representatives in Washington and by going to www.fixthedebt.org and signing their Citizen’s Petition. Now is the time it can work. Now is the time to fix our debt.

Lincoln is a former U.S. Senator from Arkansas and a member of the Campaign to Fix the Debt’s Congressional Fiscal Leadership Council.