Civic Engagement Will Improve U.S. Fiscal Outlook

Published Sep 26, 2010. By Sara Imhof. In The Des Moines Register.

"A hundred wagonloads of thoughts will not pay a single ounce of debt."- Italian proverbAmericans claim great concern about the $1.35 trillion federal deficit and spiraling national debt of more than $13 trillion. But are we actively doing anything to pay down a single dollar of that debt?As Midwest regional director for the Concord Coalition, I want to thank my fellow Iowans who have become involved in confronting the challenges of our federal deficits, rising costs of health care, and overall economic outlook. The longer we postpone action, the more difficult it becomes to fix the problems.

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The good news: Solutions to these problems exist, and many national experts with diverse perspectives agree on a lot of them. On Thursday, Sept. 30, the Des Moines community will have another opportunity to engage in the search for the best possible solutions that can pave the way to a better future for all of us at the "Setting Priorities, Making Choices" fiscal solutions forum at Drake University.Some Iowa residents have engaged on this topic. Last June, several people participated with America Speaks in a national dialogue about the federal budget and the economy. After discussing Social Security, Medicare, national defense, economic recovery and long-term deficit reduction, their message to Washington was clear: Please listen when we say Congress must find the political will to make positive change that Iowans and the rest of the country can support.

Another example: Last year, a group of health care providers and policy makers formed the Iowa Committee for Value in Healthcare, partly because of their concern over the skyrocketing costs of health care and its impact on both the private and public sectors. After meeting with national health care and federal budget experts, the committee urged Congress and the president to focus on the need for effective care at reasonable prices - exactly the type of high-value health care being provided right here in Iowa.

For Iowans to continue to effect change will require still more civic engagement and a sense of stewardship concerning the country that we will pass on to our children and future generations.Regardless of age, socio-economic status or political ideology, we are all affected by inefficiencies in our health system, irresponsible tax and spending policies in Washington, and snowballing government debt. We pay federal taxes and we receive federal benefits.

Two programs of increasing importance to aging baby boomers - Social Security and Medicare - have structural problems that must be corrected for long-term sustainability. For many years Social Security ran surpluses, but that is changing this year. Projections indicate that within a few years the government will need to find substantial amounts of money to pay the Social Security benefits that have been promised. It is not at all clear where this money will come from.

And while health care reform has the potential to curb Medicare costs, future savings are far from certain and will require continued political support for aggressive cost-containment.Both Social Security and Medicare will require substantial reforms in the years ahead so they can continue to meet the needs of older Americans.By acting as good fiscal stewards and encouraging others to become engaged as well, "We the People" have the power to shape our nation's future.

The challenges of unsustainable budget policies, spiraling debt, insufficient savings, dangerous reliance on foreign lenders, and the growing needs of an aging population are not going away. Getting involved is the right thing to do. If we don't take action, who will?