Editorial: Patriotic Duty

Posted February 2, 2010 at 3:57pm

We completely understand why many Members oppose creating a panel modeled on past base-closing commissions to recommend fiscal reforms that would have to be voted up or down by Congress with no amendments.

Creating such a commission would be a confession that Congress can’t write tax, spending and entitlement legislation to bring deficits and debt under control.

As Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) put it in debate prior to the Senate’s rejecting the commission proposed by Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), “If Congress is going to outsource its central fiscal responsibilities, why stop there? Why don’t we just outsource all the year’s work, and then adjourn for the year?—

The answer, of course, is that Congress has utterly failed — with Republican majorities and Democratic — to carry out its “central fiscal responsibilities,— and the result is that the nation faces a debt burden that not only will limit the fiscal choices of future generations, but may put the United States at the mercy of its creditors, China in the lead.

And the cause of that failure is the same disease — hyper-partisanship — that prevents solving so many other pressing problems. In this case, Democrats don’t want to cut spending, especially on retirement programs, and Republicans refuse to contemplate raising taxes.

And so, the federal debt soars. At the end of the Great Depression, it was just 52.4 percent of gross domestic product. At the end of World War II, it was 121.7 percent — though the money was owed mainly to American bondholders.

The debt fell to 32.5 percent of GDP by 1981 and then started its rise — to 67.1 percent of GDP in 1996, to 83.4 percent today and an expected 102.6 percent by 2015, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

Unless constrained, according to Conrad, the debt will soar to 300 percent of GDP by 2040 and 400 percent by 2050 — overwhelmingly held by foreigners.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), House sponsor of a parallel commission plan, told Roll Call, “My Republican colleagues are afraid to talk about tax increases, but these debts will guarantee tax increases.—

So, for the sake of their grandchildren and national security, it’s incumbent upon Republicans and Democrats to come together on this. It’s their patriotic duty. Failure to do so will constitute abdication of the most unforgiveable sort.

President George W. Bush proposed a deficit commission, but Democrats refused to serve on it. President Barack Obama is proposing one now, and Republicans are refusing to serve on it.

The Conrad-Gregg commission fell seven votes short of passage last week. Wolf’s proposal (co-sponsored with Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee) has never reached the House floor.

We’d prefer that the House and Senate solve the debt problem through regular order. But they haven’t come close. So it’s time for Obama to call Republican and Democratic leaders down to the White House and figure out how to get to work solving this problem or, as Wolf puts it, the 21st century will be the Chinese century.