November 24, 2014

Sam Nunn and Aaron Tucek Of The Can Kicks Back Promote A Generationally Balanced-Approach to Deficit Reduction

This op-ed in The Macon Telegraph was written by former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), co-chairman of The Concord Coalition, and Emory University student Aaron Tucek.

A Generationally Balanced Deficit Agreement

 The House and Senate have each passed their own budgets. The president has submitted a budget proposal of his own. And yet, as we close in on the mid-point of the year, no action has been taken to resolve the differences and agree on an overall fiscal plan for the nation. This would be an abdication of responsibility under any circumstances, but it is particularly so now.

The trajectory of our federal budget is not just fiscally irresponsible; it is immoral. Unless we fix our $17 trillion-and-growing national debt, young Americans stand to be the first generation in our history that will inherit a country worse than the one handed to its parents. Ours will be a country that can neither afford to keep the promises made in the past nor make crucial investments in the future. As a result, Millennials will face a future of even more debt, higher taxes, fewer jobs and a lower standard of living. But this dismal outlook does not have to be our destiny if lawmakers can summon the political courage necessary to put our fiscal house in order, and soon.

Leaders in Washington must take a generationally balanced-approach to reduce our federal deficit. That means tackling the true drivers of the debt, protecting high-value investments and asking for shared sacrifice from all Americans. Unfortunately, recent deficit reduction measures have largely failed on all three accounts.

For example, social insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security, which account for virtually all of the growth in future federal spending, have largely gone untouched. These programs must be made responsible and sustainable or they will not be available for future generations. At the same time, non-defense discretionary spending -- a category that includes education, infrastructure and research -- has shouldered the majority of the cuts, and is soon projected to reach its lowest level ever, relative to the economy.

A sensible and generationally-equitable path forward should achieve at least an additional $2.4 trillion in further deficit reduction over the next decade in order to put our debt on a downward path, primarily through comprehensive reform of both our tax system and our entitlement programs. 

Understanding the true size and future impact of our fiscal imbalance, and how policy changes would distribute their burdens or benefits across generations, would be a beneficial first step for leaders to take.

Further, most of the proposals you hear emanating from Washington purposely don’t affect middle-aged Americans by phasing in reforms. This may be more politically palatable to certain voting blocs, but it just encourages passing our problems down the age distribution curve. As such, when thinking about how policy changes affect future generations, Congress should hear directly from the “children and grandchildren” they so often talk about by inviting leaders of the next generation before relevant committees to testify.

Math should not be a partisan issue. Over the next decade, the United States will spend $5.4 trillion on interest payments on the national debt, and $847 billion in 2023 alone, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, that’s real money that cannot buy us anything but further delay -- delay that will foist our fiscal problems on future Americans.

The fact is, the longer we wait to deal with this problem, the more dramatic and disruptive the changes will have to be. Both parties must realize that, despite their legitimate policy differences, the status quo is the worst option on the table. The responsibility of political leadership demands they find common ground to solve this problem, not kick most of the consequences down the road to the next generation, which has had least to do with creating this problem in the first place.

As for the two of us -- a member of the college chapter of The Can Kicks Back, and a former member of the U.S. Senate from Georgia who wants to leave a legacy of successful fiscal stewardship for the next generation -- we are working to make sure that today’s leaders take seriously the moral implications of their fiscal decisions, and that tomorrow’s leaders weigh in now on issues that will affect them in the decades to come. We urge you to learn more at www.thecankicksback.org/.

Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., served in the United States Senate from 1972 to 1997. Aaron Tucek is a student at Atlanta-based Emory University.

This article can also be found on The Macon Telegraph's website at http://www.macon.com/2013/07/17/2559107/nunn-a-generationally-balanced.html