21st Century Jeffersonians believe that the most important issue facing the United States today is not terrorism, or healthcare, or immigration. Important as those issues are, they pale in comparison with the most critical challenge of all.
The national debt.
As of today, the national debt is $12.3 trillion and rising by about $3.92 billion every day. The enormous costs of our mandated social programs like Social Security and Medicare, the sickeningly bloated military budget and the wars being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the unnecessary waste that is endemic on the federal level have completely bankrupted the nation.
Our current political leadership in Washington, on both sides of the aisle, would like to pretend that this crisis simply doesn't exist, and therefore are continuing to spend money as if it grows on trees. They can only do this, of course, by passing the buck onto succeeding generations. In order to pay for our present extravagance, we are quite literally stealing money from our children and grandchildren.
Jefferson believed that fiscal discipline was one of the two greatest responsibilities of political leadership (the other was avoiding war). He believed that running a government at a deficit was a greater evil than higher taxation. Indeed, he stated explicitly that if government on any level had to borrow money , it had a moral duty to immediately implement a tax to ensure that the debt was paid off within twenty years. To do otherwise was not only poor fiscal policy, but a moral crime.
Both Republicans and Democrats regularly accuse the other of creating this crisis. The fact is that they are both equally to blame. When President Bush took office in 2001, his administration and the Republican-controlled Congress took a large budget surplus (which obviously should have been spent on paying down the debt) and turned it into a massive budget deficit by cutting taxes for the rich and launching an unnecessary invasion of Iraq. A year ago, when President Obama took office, his administration and a Democratic Congress embarked on an even bigger spending spree, passing a stimulus bill totalling nearly $800 billion and transforming an already horrible fiscal situation into an absolutely catastrophic one.
It should come as no surprise that the last time the budget was balanced was when one party controlled the White House and the other party controlled Congress. A bipartisan approach to this crisis is essential to solving it, and in that spirit, two members of the Senate from opposite sides of the aisle have come together to lay out an interesting joint proposal.
Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, have proposed creating a bipartisan commission of 18 members (eight congressional Democrats, eight congressional Republicans, and two representatives from the administration) to study various proposals for lowering the deficit and getting the national debt under control. If 14 of the 18 members could agree on a plan, then it would be sent to the House and Senate for an up-or-down vote, but would need to be approved by a 60% vote in each house, rather than by a simple majority.
Here is an NPR radio interview with the two senators as they discuss their plan.
These two senators should be applauded for their willingness to face the problem fair and square. We should be under no illusions that this proposal will be some kind of silver bullet that will solve the problem, but it's a start. 21st Century Jeffersonians should immediately contact their own senators and tell them to support what Conrad and Gregg have proposed.