This week’s presidential debate will be an opportunity to watch the candidates face off and present their visions for the future of our country. I’m hopeful that both President Obama and Gov. Romney will thoughtfully address the debt crisis and provide plans to fix it.
The debt is currently around $16 trillion and growing every day. It now represents nearly 75 percent of our economy — a rate we have not seen since the years following World War II. On our current path, the debt is set to exceed 100 percent of our economy within the next decade.
In the months ahead we face a looming “fiscal cliff” which will entail mandatory cuts across the board, increase taxes on nearly everyone and take hundreds of billions of dollars out of the fragile economy, which is slowly recovering from the economic downturn. This month, Moody’s Investor Service warned that the U.S. could lose its sterling credit rating if Congress doesn’t reach a deal to avoid these damaging measures. The impending measures have also stifled investment in our economy because of fear of hundreds of billions in tax increases and budget cuts. This is not the right way to solve our debt problem.
We also cannot afford to kick the can down the road any further. This crisis is urgent and we must address it now. Our nation must take steps toward methodically and systematically balancing the budget and reducing the deficit. We are on an unsustainable path and we need decisive action on measures that will address the debt while reassuring the markets and spurring economic investment.
The recommendations of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission, which would save $4 trillion and address all parts of the budget, provide an effective framework for such a plan. This plan received bipartisan support and offered a combination of cutting low-priority spending, reforming entitlement programs and reforming the tax code. All of these measures would be enacted gradually to avoid damaging the fragile economy or cuts to our most essential programs.
We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to solve this problem. Inaction may drive our economy to the breaking point which has led several European countries to face insolvency and economic collapse. We also face the risk of being unable to respond to future crises, including economic challenges, natural emergencies and national security risks.
The public must become more involved in this critical debate. As a senator, I listened closely to the concerns of my constituents and it drove my legislative agenda. It is time for citizens that are concerned about this impending crisis to make their voices heard. We can come together to solve this problem, but it is going to take serious discussions, compromise and difficult choices — but a solution is achievable because consequences of inaction are far too severe.
The Fix the Debt campaign is a nationwide, bi-partisan effort to raise awareness of the fiscal crisis and build public support for a common sense and sustainable solution. You can become part of this growing campaign by going to fixthedebt.org and joining more than 180,000 people from all around the country who have come together to tell our leaders in Washington to make the tough choices necessary to fix the debt crisis and put America on a sustainable path.
The debt is one of the great challenges facing our nation, but it is also a great opportunity for leaders of both parties to come together and restore faith that Washington can do the right thing. We have a chance to fix this looming crisis, but our leaders need to act swiftly, decisively and with bipartisan agreement.
Former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fl.) is chairman of JPMorgan Chase Bank, Southeast and Latin America. Martinez serves as a co-chair of the Housing Commission at the Bipartisan Policy Center.