When the President announced his formation of a bi-partisan commission to look at the US government’s fiscal present and future, I was pleased. Better late than never. These commissions can be very helpful to a President. They can tackle the really difficult, controversial questions that are very dangerous for individual politicians to touch. A commission report can offer a President an opportunity to raise these difficult, controversial questions publicly without direct political harm, while also providing some constructive recommendations that have been designed by Republicans and Democrats, liberal and conservatives, working together. No small task in today’s America.
The report of the “Debt Commission”, as it was informally called, was released on December 1st of 2010, shortly after the President’s party suffered a serious set-back in mid-term elections, in good part due to issues surrounding government deficits and debt. This was a golden opportunity for the President to “get on top” of this issue for his sake, his party’s sake, but above all, for America’s sake, as President Clinton did in 1995 on the issue of welfare reform following his party’s loss of both Houses of Congress in November of 1994. He chose otherwise. I have no time to waste on the “sturm und drang” of what passes for American political discussion today, but I say that this came to me as a great disappointment, not for the President, but for the Presidency and for the people of the United States.
Nearly a year and a half later, this Commission’s report now gathers dust in the Oval Office’s file cabinet and the report slowly gets more and more out-of-date in its details every day. But in general, it remains as significant today, perhaps even more so if that is possible, than when it was written.
If nothing else, in honor of the hard work of that Commission (I can only imagine how tough some of the debate must have been for this group of varied backgrounds), I would like to “memorialize” it here at Future Brief by republishing the Preamble to the report in its entirety. These words are every bit as meaningful today as they were when they were first written.
The Moment of Truth: Report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform
Throughout our nation’s history, Americans have found the courage to do right by our children’s future. Deep down, every American knows we face a moment of truth once again. We cannot play games or put off hard choices any longer. Without regard to party, we have a patriotic duty to keep the promise of America to give our children and grandchildren a better life.
Our challenge is clear and inescapable: America cannot be great if we go broke. Our businesses will not be able to grow and create jobs, and our workers will not be able to compete successfully for the jobs of the future without a plan to get this crushing debt burden off our backs.
Ever since the economic downturn, families across the country have huddled around kitchen tables, making tough choices about what they hold most dear and what they can learn to live without. They expect and deserve their leaders to do the same. The American people are counting on us to put politics aside, pull together not pull apart, and agree on a plan to live within our means and make America strong for the long haul.
As members of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, we spent the past eight months studying the same cold, hard facts. Together, we have reached these unavoidable conclusions: The problem is real. The solution will be painful. There is no easy way out. Everything must be on the table. And Washington must lead.
We come from different backgrounds, represent different regions, and belong to different parties, but we share a common belief that America’s long-term fiscal gap is unsustainable and, if left unchecked, will see our children and grandchildren living in a poorer, weaker nation. In the words of Senator Tom Coburn, “We keep kicking the can down the road, and splashing the soup all over our grandchildren.” Every modest sacrifice we refuse to make today only forces far greater sacrifices of hope and opportunity upon the next generation.
Over the course of our deliberations, the urgency of our mission has become all the more apparent. The contagion of debt that began in Greece and continues to sweep through Europe shows us clearly that no economy will be immune. If the U.S. does not put its house in order, the reckoning will be sure and the devastation severe.
The President and the leaders of both parties in both chambers of Congress asked us to address the nation’s fiscal challenges in this decade and beyond. We have worked to offer an aggressive, fair, balanced, and bipartisan proposal – a proposal as serious as the problems we face. None of us likes every element of our plan, and each of us had to tolerate provisions we previously or presently oppose in order to reach a principled compromise. We were willing to put our differences aside to forge a plan because our nation will certainly be lost without one.
We do not pretend to have all the answers. We offer our plan as the starting point for a serious national conversation in which every citizen has an interest and all should have a say. Our leaders have a responsibility to level with Americans about the choices we face, and to enlist the ingenuity and determination of the American people in rising to the challenge.
We believe neither party can fix this problem on its own, and both parties have a responsibility to do their part. The American people are a long way ahead of the political system in recognizing that now is the time to act. We believe that far from penalizing their leaders for making the tough choices, Americans will punish politicians for backing down – and well they should.
In the weeks and months to come, countless advocacy groups and special interests will try mightily through expensive, dramatic, and heart-wrenching media assaults to exempt themselves from shared sacrifice and common purpose. The national interest, not special interests, must prevail. We urge leaders and citizens with principled concerns about any of our recommendations to follow what we call the Becerra Rule: Don’t shoot down an idea without offering a better idea in its place.
After all the talk about debt and deficits, it is long past time for America’s leaders to put up or shut up. The era of debt denial is over, and there can be no turning back. We sign our names to this plan because we love our children, our grandchildren, and our country too much not to act while we still have the chance to secure a better future for all our fellow citizens.
If you like, a copy of the full report is available here.