September 2, 2014

Concord Coalition/Fix the Debt Forums: Florida and Colorado

Political leadership from both parties is needed to take advantage of the window of opportunity that exists in the next few months to achieve a meaningful deficit-reduction plan. That was a common theme last week from federal budget experts, former lawmakers and others who spoke in “Fix the Debt” forums in Florida and Colorado that were co-sponsored by The Concord Coalition.

While speakers at the programs offered a wide variety of perspectives and suggestions, there was general agreement on the need to deal responsibly with fundamental challenges such as rising health care costs, the aging of the population and the need to promote a vibrant economy.

A number of the speakers also emphasized the importance of public engagement and bipartisan compromise. And several stressed the high stakes for younger Americans in deficit reduction in the years ahead.

Absent reforms, the federal debt will continue to rise even after a full economic recovery and the winding down of some overseas military commitments, Concord Executive Director Robert L. Bixby said at a forum last Tuesday at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. He noted that the government’s interest costs alone are projected to total almost $1 trillion a year in a decade.

Last week’s programs were the latest in a series of forums around the country co-sponsored by Concord, the Campaign to Fix the Debt, and various local organizations and schools.

In addition to Bixby, other speakers at the Eckerd College program were Jim Davis, a former U.S. House member; Paul Stebbins, executive chairman of the board of World Fuel Services Corporation, and Paul D. Hernandez, a member of the Hialeah City Council.

At a program the following day in Tampa, they were joined by former U.S. Senator Mel Martinez, who is currently chairman of Southeast and Latin America for JPMorgan Chase & Co. Martinez also serves as a co-chair of the Florida steering committee for Fix the Debt.

Martinez said he thought elected officials in Washington had an opportunity to move forward on fiscal reform before early fall, when the political parties will start focusing on next year’s elections. Lack of progress this year, however, could mean a “grand bargain” might not be possible until 2017.

On Saturday two former Colorado state legislators -- Norma Anderson and Penn R. Pfiffner -- Colorado Fiscal Institute Executive Director Carol Hedges, and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo discussed solutions to the nation’s debt at the Arapahoe Community College in Littleton. Paul Hansen, Concord’s western regional director, also presented a federal budget overview.

While there was some disagreement on the details, there was wide agreement that entitlement and tax reform are critical to a solution. “The politically impossible must become the politically inevitable… ,” Tancredo said. “This will require leadership that may mean you will not be reelected.”

Anderson, a former majority leader in both the Colorado House and Senate and a state Fix the Debt co-chair, emphasized listening to the perspectives of others: “If you want solutions, you need to listen to find out what other people really want so you can craft a compromise.”