With all of the discussion about short-term federal spending resolutions and potential gridlock in Congress, you might think we have lost the opportunity for serious action on our longer-range deficits and debt.
I remain convinced that our country is at a critically important moment: We simply must seize this opportunity to get our fiscal house in order for the long term, and since last summer this has been one of my top priorities.
Partnering with my Republican colleague Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, we are working to try to turn the recommendations of the presidents National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform into legislation.
Our current national debt stands at more than $14 trillion. If adopted in full, the commissions recommendations would gradually reduce that debt by $4 trillion over the next 10 years.
Unfortunately, the current debate is centered on deep cuts in short-term, discretionary and nonmilitary spending, which only makes-up about 12 percent of the overall federal budget.
The spending proposal recently adopted by the House of Representatives slashes funding for workforce training programs that are so important to many people across the southern portion of the state.
It targeted federal support for the multi-state, multi-year Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort, and the House budget makes deep cuts in federal funding to Northern Virginias Metro mass transit system.
The simple fact is, drastic and even painful cuts to these individual programs alone will not fix our larger structural budget problems.
Thats why Senator Chambliss and I have been working with a growing number of our Senate colleagues to address these fiscal challenges in a more comprehensive and responsible way. We must work together to control government spending, simplify our tax code and begin to gradually eliminate our deficits.
That is the only way we will fix our nations balance sheet over the long term.
The deficit commissions recommendations, while far from perfect, represent a courageous first step in tackling our national debt in ways that will make our nation competitive for the 21st century:
The commission laid out a plan to accelerate health care savings in Medicare and Medicaid, and it provides a responsible roadmap to strengthen Social Security for the next 75 years. The commissions plan protects Social Security, and does not use Social Security funds to balance the budget.
It dramatically simplifies a tax system in serious need of an overhaul. It proposes closing loopholes and phasing out some deductions while lowering overall tax rates for individuals and corporations.
It puts everything on the table, including entitlement programs and defense spending. We believe that this has to be part of the discussion, too.
As you might imagine, various political opponents and special interests already are mobilizing to short-circuit our work on this legislation, which demonstrates why this is such a difficult challenge. It also shows why Washingtons typical political response has always been to kick this can down the road, and push the tough choices to another day:
These choices do not get any easier simply by delaying action. Every day that we put off these difficult decisions, an average $4 billion is added to the national debt.
Every dollar that we spend simply paying the interest on our nations staggering debt is disappearing into a fiscal sinkhole. These are resources that cannot be targeted toward creating jobs, expanding the U.S. economy or addressing any of our other shared priorities.
While there are plenty of recommendations in the commissions plan that I would not have chosen, this much is crystal clear to me and the other members of our bipartisan coalition: we simply cannot postpone this difficult discussion any longer.
The writer, an Alexandria resident, is a former governor of Virginia and a member of the Senates Banking, Budget, Commerce and Intelligence committees.