It’s time to do some fixing in Washington

Posted Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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While I was in Congress representing the great state of Texas, I looked forward to time with my constituents, hearing first-hand their thoughts and concerns on an array of important issues.

So, I was eager to participate in a fly-in to Capitol Hill with 50 concerned citizens from 13 states representing the Campaign to Fix the Debt — a nationwide, nonpartisan group focused on promoting action to rein in our soaring national debt.

This time, the roles would be reversed because I wanted to express my frustration to lawmakers over their handling of the disruptive government shutdown and a narrowly averted federal default — and to let them know that most of that political theater could have been avoided if there were a plan in place to address the country’s mounting national debt.

The message from all fly-in participants was quite clear: It is time for our elected leaders to look at the tough choices before them and work toward a bipartisan agreement on the country’s fiscal health.

Jumping from crisis to crisis with one short-term solution after another is not going to change the skyrocketing trajectory of our debt, and it absolutely isn’t providing the economic certainty the country sorely needs.

Instead of focusing on the next month and the next election, policymakers should focus on the next decade and the next generation, and that begins with confronting the national debt.

The concern is well justified. Relative to the size of the economy, the national debt is the largest it has been in more than six decades.

The latest projections from the Congressional Budget Office indicate that debt will continue to grow over the coming decades, equaling the size of the economy by 2038 and doubling it by 2076.

This is an unsustainable fiscal course, and lawmakers must take significant action to improve the country’s long-term economic outlook. Failing to do so could result in spikes in interest, unemployment and inflation rates — all of which would be devastating to our still-recovering economy.

In order to further this debate and perhaps spark substantive action, the Campaign to Fix the Debt recently released the “Citizens’ Plan to Fix the Debt.”

These common-sense solutions were shaped with input from citizens from coast to coast and from varying backgrounds. They provide ideas for budget conferees to consider as they collaborate on ideas for budget sustainability in Fiscal Year 2014 and beyond.

The Citizens’ Plan contains ideas that enjoy broad support among most Americans.

Among the proposals upon which Americans broadly agree, within the context of a comprehensive deficit-reduction agreement, are to strengthen health and retirement programs for future retirees and generations, to modernize the tax code to promote growth and reduce the deficit.

Almost everyone we met in Washington agreed that these were feasible goals.

But “agree” isn’t the same as “enact.” They still need to hear from the millions of Americans who share the appetite for relief from our debt burden and who want to see policymakers work together to restore order to the country’s fiscal house.

It will take a collective effort to get Washington to act on our fiscal future, but the time for action is now.

The next few months will be a crucial time for negotiations to improve the country’s economic standing. I am optimistic that lawmakers will share what we told them in our fly-in meetings with their colleagues on both sides of the aisle in an attempt to come together for the good of the entire country.

We can fix the debt.

Charlie Stenholm, D-Stamford, served in the U.S. House for 26 years and now co-chairs of the Texas chapter of the Campaign to Fix the Debt.

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