The heads of more than 80 major U.S. corporations sounded another alarm about America’s soaring national debt Thursday. And regardless of who wins at the ballot box on Nov. 6, our nation will be the loser if their warning goes unheeded.
The campaigns of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney responded to the statement by agreeing that the debt is a critical problem — and by insisting that they have the solution.
But President Obama and Mr. Romney are also predictably reluctant to provide the specific — and inevitably painful — details required for any realistic path back to budgetary balance.
Eventually, though, this divisive political campaign will mercifully end. Then the winner of the presidential race — and the winners of the U.S. Senate and House races — will have to lead us out of our ominously vast debt mess.
And as the leaders of corporate America, including Boeing, Aetna and Weyerhaeuser, pointed out Thursday, any debt-reduction plan “that can succeed both financially and politically” must limit the growth of health-care spending, alter Social Security’s course toward fiscal oblivion and “include comprehensive and pro-growth tax reform, which broadens the base, lowers rates, raises revenues and reduces the deficit.”
The statement, released in collaboration with the “Fix the Debt” organization, didn’t take sides in the White House contest.
Yes, it emphasized the need to not only reduce federal spending but increase federal revenue — and President Obama has proposed a tax hike on “the wealthy” to accomplish the latter. Predictably, perhaps, the executives did not endorse the president’s push for raising marginal tax rates on the top 2 percent of U.S. incomes.
Yes, the statement advocated tax reforms including the closing of loopholes — the same general pitch delivered by Mr. Romney. But it did not specially endorse the Republican nominee’s plan.
Instead, it urged federal elected officials to take a good look back at the report issued in late 2010 by the Simpson-Bowles debt commission. That bipartisan panel was appointed by President Obama. Too bad its practical proposals have been largely ignored by both the president and Congress.
The CEOs praised the commission’s approach as an “effective framework” for saving us from “a serious threat to the economic well-being and security of the U.S.”
Honeywell CEO Dave Cote, one of the signers, told reporters that “from my perspective, there’s a potential disaster, or a potential opportunity here.”
In this case, we’re almost “here,” with four straight deficits of at least $1 trillion and a national debt at $16 trillion and climbing.
Plus, Congress is scheduled to go back into session on Nov. 13 under severe pressure to avoid the “fiscal cliff” that looms if it doesn’t make a new budget deal by Jan. 1.
But even if lawmakers make a temporary deal, that would only “kick the can down the road” again.
Simpson-Bowles, however, presented a long-term prescription for what ails our fiscal future. It included a mix of spending reductions and revenue “enhancements,” largely through the elimination of tax deductions. It also championed sweeping reforms to Medicare and Social Security.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle know that such bitter medicine remains risky at the polls.
Still, whoever wins the presidential, Senate and House elections must get a handle on our accelerating debt crisis before it dumps us into a bottom-line ditch from which we can’t escape.
And on Thursday, the candidates and the electorate were given a strong warning about the rising peril inflicted by Washington’s relentlessly rising red ink.