By Steve Brown
It seems these days we are inundated with warnings about our swollen national debt and the “fiscal cliff,” and with good reason. We’ve been fiscally irresponsible for far too long and it’s finally caught up to us. Simply put, America must right its economic course or face disastrous consequences. Future generations are relying on us to work together to solve this problem so that our country can secure its place as an economic leader.
Earlier this month, I had the honor to travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with President Obama’s advisors and Members of Congress as part of a delegation from Texas invited to learn more about our nation’s fiscal issues.
This debt affects each and every American on a daily basis whether we realize it or not. If we continue to neglect our debt we can expect inflation and interest rates to rise, creating real problems for individuals and businesses alike. A spike in inflation means that the cost of everyday items such as gas and groceries will rise. And an increase in interest rates results in a stricter lending environment, making it harder for businesses to access money vital for growth and expansion. Higher interest rates also make it more difficult for individuals and families to access funds needed for major purchases like a home or a car.
On January 1, if Congress and President Obama aren’t able to reach an agreement we’ll see our economy go off a “fiscal cliff” – the arbitrary blend of tax increases and spending cuts. Taxes on middle class families will increase by about $2,000. Additionally, the cliff’s combination of tax hikes and nearly across-the-board federal spending cuts would have severely negative effects on Texas’ working families, funding for K-12 and higher education, and small businesses and major employers alike. The cliff would cut about $1 billion in state funding from many critical programs that protect the most vulnerable among us, including nutrition programs for low-income women and children, as well as education, public housing and workforce training.
However, simply avoiding the cliff won’t be enough. If our debt sticks to its current course, important programs like those mentioned above won’t be cut now, but rather squeezed to death over time as our national debt crowds out other priorities. We simply must begin controlling our debt; research shows that once debt reaches elevated levels, an economy can be expected to grow significantly slower each year, and would increasingly face the threat of a fiscal crisis.
President Obama and Congress certainly have their work cut out for them. The only way to successfully achieve comprehensive debt reduction is through a bipartisan approach. We need compromise, no matter how hard it is.
With the recent tragic events in Connecticut, it’s time to finally commit to putting our fiscal deficit and long term debt behind us. I think we would all want to see President Barack Obama and Congress shift their focus to deal with gun control and our mental health crisis in the New Year. But, it might be difficult to adequately address those issues if we’re still mired in the mud of our ongoing fiscal debt.
I am a firm believer that America is up to these great challenges. But we must set aside our differences and be prepared to sacrifice. Improving our long-term economic outlook isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue- it’s an American necessity. We will be stronger and better suited to meet the issues of tomorrow when we stop ignoring the fiscal challenges of today.
Editor’s Note:Steve Brown is chairman of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party and is on the steering committee of the Texas chapter of the Campaign to Fix the Debt. Fix the Debt is a non-partisan movement to put America on a better fiscal and economic path.