October 24, 2014

Seize Opportunity to Tackle Budget Deficit

In a new op-ed for Quad-Cities Online, Sara Imhof, Midwest regional director for The Concord Coalition, says the country needs to begin to resolve its long-term fiscal challenges. The guest column can also be found here.

It's not the way government should work: Jobless Americans in need of extended unemployment benefits, Pentagon generals and federal agency directors waiting to hear about their appropriations and investors concerned about another global scare over the federal debt limit are all waiting on Washington to do its work. The regular budget process laid in shambles for most of this year.

The budget deal that finally came together a few days ago in Washington could reduce the uncertainty and chaos, at least for a while. If elected officials follow through on it in the next few weeks, it would spare us another government shutdown.

But the agreement fails to deal with the country's biggest fiscal challenges: The government's growing debt and rising interest payments, a ramshackle tax system that costs $1 trillion a year in lost revenue and an aging population that in coming years will require more and more assistance from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Although the federal deficit has dropped sharply in the past year, it is expected to start rising again in the next few years on an unsustainable path.

The federal debt held by investors and foreign countries amounts to about 72 percent of our Gross Domestic Product. Except for a short period around the end of World War II, that's the highest level of government debt in U.S. history.

Our rising debt, demographic forces, health care spending and interest payments all are putting more and more pressure on the federal budget.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that under current law, federal spending apart from Social Security and major health care programs would fall to its smallest percentage of GDP in more than 70 years.

Meanwhile, CBO warns, federal debt would still climb to 100 percent of GDP in 25 years. Our living standards, our economic strength and our position of world leadership all would be in jeopardy.

We would be increasingly dependent on our creditors, and the United States would have less budgetary flexibility to deal with new challenges at home and abroad that we might not be able to foresee.

Worst of all, we would be harming our children and future generations by leaving them with enormous debts that we refused to pay ourselves.

Fortunately, elected officials have many fiscal reform options.

On Tuesday, residents of Illinois' 17th Congressional District have the opportunity to tackle the deficit themselves!

Rep. Cheri Bustos and the nonpartisan Concord Coalition present interactive budget exercises in Galesburg and Moline, where participants will break into small groups to review, discuss and decide on dozens of options. The goal: Put together a comprehensive fiscal reform package that would significantly reduce federal deficits over the next decade.

The budget exercises are open to the public, but reservations are suggested. For more information, see concordcoalition.org or contact Kerry Myers at Kerry.Myers@mail.house.gov or 309-786-3406.

Whether you can participate Tuesday or not, be sure to let your elected representatives know that you expect Washington to do a better job of managing the federal budget in the future.

Sara Imhof is the Concord Coalition's Midwest regional director and education programs director.