Casting aspersions doesn't fix the debt

One of the biggest threats facing the country today is the national debt. It has the ability to cripple the economy, compromise national security, and leave future generations at a considerable disadvantage. Yet it remains an extremely divisive issue. Sadly, there are numerous would-be analysts and pundits who would rather cast aspersions and dismiss ideas on how to fix this problem rather than constructively contribute to this discussion.

In his recent op-ed in The Hill, George Goehl brought a great deal of heat, but not a shred of light, to the debate about how we might address the undeniable math of our nation’s fiscal future.  Rather than acknowledging that debt levels as a share of the economy are nearly twice the historical average, and the highest they’ve been since the aftermath of World War II, he chose to attack the efforts of the Campaign to Fix the Debt and impugn the motives of those who have funded much of our work.

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And what of these CEOs, whom Goehl suggests are involved in the issue simply to increase their own bottom lines?  Of course, as he suggests, several of their corporations benefit from the maze of deductions and loopholes that is our current tax code.  This only makes their support for a simplification of that code – meaning the elimination or reduction of some special interest provisions – that much more powerful. 

If he had visited our website, Goehl would have seen that, among the core principles of the campaign is our belief that a comprehensive deficit reduction package should include “pro-growth tax reform which broadens the base, lowers rates, raises revenues, and reduces the deficit.”  Far from trying to preserve the status quo, the corporate leaders who support Fix the Debt are quite publicly calling for a revamping of the system that Goehl claims, “they want to keep.”   In failing to note this fact, he displays either a lack of due diligence or a willful misrepresentation of what the campaign stands for.  

Speaking of facts, Goehl makes no mention of the long-term budgetary realities we face.  The Congressional Budget Office projects that the debt will rise from 73 percent of GDP today to 100 percent of GDP by 2035 and twice the size of the economy by 2065. A debt burden of this magnitude could result in a spike in interest, unemployment, and inflation rates which would be major setback for the economy as it continues its tepid recovery. Excess debt could also stall economic growth and increase the likelihood of a debt-fueled crisis. And if we continue on our current trajectory, interest payments on the debt will eventually crowd out vital investments in other parts of the budget such as education, infrastructure, and research and development.

It is true that we also support reforms to Medicare and Medicaid that will improve efficiency in the overall health care system and limit future cost growth, and changes to Social Security that will make it sustainably solvent for future beneficiaries.  But let me be clear.  As an African-American pastor with many members of my congregation who depend on these vital safety net programs, I would never be part of a campaign that was intent on gutting them, as Goehl suggests Fix the Debt is.  And frankly, the suggestion that those of us who believe that reform is needed to strengthen these programs lack the intellectual acumen to decipher when we are being manipulated as useful idiots is insulting.

50 years ago, the ratio of workers to retirees in the Social Security was 5 to 1.  It is now fewer than 3 to 1 and falling.  The structural changes that the Campaign advocates would prolong their solvency by several decades, helping to ensure that current recipients and future generations will enjoy the essential security they provide.  And the suggestion that Fix the Debt wants to slash benefits for those who need them most is baseless. In fact, our policy proposals include robust protections for low-income seniors, beneficiaries who will face major benefit cuts in the next two decades without reform.

What solutions does Goehl offer up? None; not a single one. Conversely, the campaign has been hard at work for the better part of a year to give lawmakers the support needed to make the tough decisions that will solve our debt problems once and for all, as evidenced by our recent fly-in on Capitol Hill that included 50 citizen-activists from 13 states across the country united in the belief that Washington must end its harmful dysfunction.

Inaction in the face of our current fiscal situation is both unacceptable and irresponsible. More to the point, the last thing we need if we are going to begin to turn a corner on the hyper-partisanship that has paralyzed Washington is more name-calling, demonizing and guilt by association.  Solutions must be put on the table, and difficult choices made.  The time has come to fix the debt.

Newman is the senior pastor at The Sanctuary at Mount Calvary Church in Jacksonville Florida. He is a member of the Florida Chapter of the Campaign to Fix the Debt.