The national debt is a big problem, and not just in the abstract. By the numbers, our obligations amount to more than $16 trillion. If you wanted to know the last time that our country owed as much as a share of the economy as we do now, you'd have to go all the way back to the World War II era. Back then the "Greatest Generation" put in the hard work to build the world's most advanced economy and helped us all climb out of a deep financial hole.
This time around it may require an even stronger effort. Just a short decade from now, the publicly held portion of our national debt -- the metric experts believe is the most meaningful -- will eclipse the size of the entire economy. Choosing not to act will do nothing more than deepen our fiscal concerns and shift more of the burden to our nation's young people and onto future generations.
If you're wondering how tackling such a deep and complex task begins, the answer is that it starts with you. Over 270,000 individuals from across the country have signed on to a new grassroots movement called the Campaign to Fix the Debt at www.FixTheDebt.org. As a part of this group, we have been fortunate to work alongside leading CEOs, former elected officials and concerned citizens all seeking to bridge the partisan divide and effect change in Washington.
The bottom line is that our lawmakers must make debt reduction a priority. Without a solid plan in place, it's easy to see how businesses will suffer. Deep deficits over the long-term will simply require the government to spend an ever-increasing amount servicing the debt, money that could instead be used for investing in infrastructure or basic research or even just in keeping tax rates low. It also means an inevitable rise in interest rates, which would make it harder for business-owners to borrow money to put back into growing businesses, and undoubtedly less money for new hires as well.
Unless something is done, the effects of our mounting debt will be felt right here at home. Washington boasts a robust technology services sector, and excellent facilities for shipping and trade, but the concerns of public debt could be too much to overcome. Already, businesses around the country are putting off making new hires or investments in the face of the "fiscal cliff," the spending reductions and expiring tax cuts set to go into effect on Jan. 1.
With both short- and long-term problems facing us, we need a comprehensive solution, and we need it soon. Everything -- spending cuts, changes to entitlement programs, wholesale tax reform -- must be on the table. And our elected leaders must be willing to buck favored constituencies to get an agreement done. But they need your help to let them know that a long-term deal on the debt is something you want -- that it's good politics in addition to good policy.
For this reason we hope that Washingtonians from Seattle to Spokane recognize the urgency of solving this problem. We need Democrats and Republicans alike to put aside their differences and do what is necessary to meet this challenge. Together we can get this done.
Steve Hobbs is state senator representing parts of Snohomish County. Tim Leavitt is mayor of Vancouver. They are co-chairmen of the Washington state committee of The Campaign to Fix the Debt, a non-partisan movement to put America on a better fiscal and economic path.
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