Growing U.S. debt is our biggest threat

Published 12:04 am Thursday, May 19, 2011

Late last summer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, identified what he believes is the greatest threat to our nation’s national security: our growing debt.

That view was reinforced last month by the credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s, which issued America’s first-ever negative credit outlook for the U.S. What these and other warnings show is that America faces an unprecedented crisis —unless both parties in Washington come together and act now to cut spending and pay our reduce our debts.

Thursday of last week, I joined my Senate Republican colleagues at a White House meeting with President Obama to discuss this crisis. We told the President that something must be done.

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At a time when the federal government in Washington is borrowing 40 cents for every dollar it spends and is set to spend more than $1.6 trillion more this year alone than it takes in, the time to act is now. If we don’t, our children and grandchildren will be forced to pay our obligations.

This is unacceptable and it is wrong. We need to reduce our spending in ways that make sense and can be maintained.

The best opportunity to do something is in the context of the President’s request to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. Some in the Obama administration continue to publicly call for a “clean” bill to raise the debt ceiling, with no conditions or budget savings attached.

The chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers even went so far as to call such linkage “insane.” But the President himself has already signed one debt ceiling hike with conditions and has acknowledged that spending cuts should be a part of any deal this time around.

At our meeting with the President, I was encouraged to hear him agree that the budget situation is urgent and that we need to change the “trajectory” of Medicare and Medicaid spending. The President would have been well advised to stress this type of common ground in response to the proposed budget of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.

Our Republican message to Mr. Obama was respectful, but firm:

(1) Tone down the rhetoric. With so much at stake for our country, this is no time for cheap political shots.

(2) A stand-alone hike in the debt ceiling is a non-starter.

(3) Spending cuts must begin now and be real and enforceable.

(4) Reforms must be enacted to preserve entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security for today’s retirees and for future generations.

(5) Most importantly, Presidential leadership is absolutely essential to achieve any meaningful result.

With the debt clock ticking louder and louder, Senate Democrats, who remain in the majority, still have offered no budget after having failed to produce one last year.

Avoiding tough problems and maintaining the status quo are not viable options. Instead, bold leadership — including the President’s — is needed to avert a financial catastrophe.

Sen. Roger Wicker is a Republican representing Mississippi in the U.S. Senate.