February 07, 2023

Stop the political blame game and start cutting the debt

From a once-in-a-century pandemic and inflation not seen in decades to a global energy crisis, it is fair to say the American people are “crisis-ed out.”
Given all that anxiety, one would presume that leaders of both parties would seek out compromise to avert an unnecessary, entirely avoidable financial crisis and act soon to raise the debt ceiling.
Instead, we are again witnessing a dangerous game of unnecessary brinkmanship that puts our global credit rating at risk and could cost American families and businesses much more if our leaders fail.
How serious a crisis could we face if we continue to ignore our nation’s debt? Consider the words of the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, who was asked in February 2011 about the greatest threat facing our nation when he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Without skipping a beat, Mullen said it was our national debt. Those words are truer now than they were then.
Here are the facts: Our national debt was $14.1 trillion in February 2011. In the decade since, we have added nearly another $20 trillion to that total with bipartisan enthusiasm. That’s over $94,000 for every American.
Never in the history of our nation have we so quickly amassed so much debt. Several presidents and both parties played a role in getting us here. While I am proud that the Inflation Reduction Act last year directed $300 billion to deficit reduction — the largest down payment in decades — we must do more.
Democrats and Republicans seem to want to blame each other rather than come to grips with the reality that we must raise the debt limit and rein in the out-of-control spending that threatens Social Security, Medicare and our national defense.
How can this be done?
Congress could start by doing its job and crafting a bipartisan budget agreement that puts our country on a better path. By just passing the annual appropriations bills on time, we would save billions we currently waste year after year by relying on continuing resolutions to fund government operations.
Capping the annual growth of discretionary spending at 1 percent for the next 10 years would save more than $1 trillion. We can do this without threatening essential programs such as Medicare and Social Security or cutting defense spending at a time when we are grappling with the largest-scale land war in Europe since World War II and an emboldened China that blatantly violates our airspace and dominates global supply chains.
These are just a few ideas, and no doubt there are others that might prove more viable — if we choose to simply pause and listen to each other.
Fortunately, history shows that progress is possible and that divided government can produce results. Between 1985 and 1997, Congress enacted multiple, mostly bipartisan, reforms that led to a balanced budget in 1998 for the first time in decades.
It will not be easy, but now is the time for President Biden and our congressional leaders to come together and have an honest, open and public discussion about what we can and must do in the best interest of our nation. Failure is not an option.
Regardless of our party affiliation, we all have a responsibility to rise above the politics of the moment — especially during times like these. And when it comes to an issue as serious as the national debt, I am guided by the words of my grandfather, who liked to say, “Unmanaged debt will lead you to make cowardly decisions.”

Those words stuck with me as I grew older, got married, started a family, built my own small business and went into public service. As governor of West Virginia, I held weekly budget meetings to ensure our government was living within its means, just like every family around every kitchen table across America. With our debt now standing at $31.4 trillion, we as elected leaders must have the courage to work together and act. Because, make no mistake, the American people will bear the ultimate consequences of our inaction if we allow politics to rule the day.

By:  Senator Joe Manchin