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Leadership needed as national debt tops $15 trillion

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November 22, 2011 | comments

By U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan -- Special to the Kenosha News

Last week the federal government marked a sobering milestone: The national debt surpassed $15 trillion, with no end to the red ink in sight. This week, as families gather to give thanks for the blessings provided abundantly to our country in the past, we must be mindful of the economic challenges we face in the present — challenges made worse by an uncertain future in which our debt is projected to overwhelm our economy and threaten our nation’s exceptional promise.

Our nation’s debt is now roughly the size of our entire economy, with the average American household’s share of the debt exceeding $130,000. This is over 2.5 times the average American household’s annual income. While our debt is the product of irresponsible spending by many Congresses and administrations over many generations, more debt has been added under President Obama’s administration than during any other President’s tenure. Under the Obama administration, as massive new government spending bills have been enacted, the nation’s debt has increased by $4 trillion. In each of the past three years, the federal government has spent $1 trillion more than it has taken in.

More troubling, by failing to offer a credible plan to pay for this gusher of new spending, the federal government’s fiscal gap — meaning the promises government has made that it can’t currently afford to keep — has ballooned to nearly $100 trillion. This crushing burden of debt weighs down our economy today, resulting in stagnant growth, uncertainty for job creators, and persistently high unemployment. Worse, if left unchecked, it will guarantee a diminished future for all of us.

The unique American legacy has always been to hand down to future generations a better, more prosperous nation. Rather than sever this legacy and pass on trillions of dollars of debt to our children and grandchildren, we must work together so that they have a government that keeps its promises and an economy that remains the envy of the world.

We owe our students and seniors, working families and the unemployed, and all citizens better than just empty promises and broken government programs. That is why I have worked to advance credible solutions that not only lift our crushing burden of debt, but also help our economy today. These include making our tax code fair, simple, and competitive; repairing our social safety net; and strengthening Social Security and Medicare so they’re sustainable. These reforms would go a long way toward addressing our short-term and long-term economic challenges.

The fact is that the Senate has not passed a budget in more than 930 days, yet government continues to spend without restraint. This abdication of such a basic responsibility is offensive to all of us who must live within a budget. For early Americans, kicking the can down the road and passing on an inferior standard of living to future generations simply was not an option. Their commitment to solving problems should continue to guide us today. Leaders must move beyond the partisan blame game and look for every opportunity to reduce our $15 trillion debt and eliminate our trillion-dollar annual budget deficits.

Our nation was not founded on the belief that the economic pie was somehow fixed and the role of government was to divvy up the slices. We’ve always held that we could grow the pie, so that Americans — using their talents, their skills, and their willingness to work hard — might carve out a bigger slice for themselves and their families. No problem has ever been too large or too vast for our nation to overcome, and the crushing burden of debt we are confronting is no different.

Congress must advance fiscal solutions that are equal to the magnitude of our fiscal and economic challenges. We have much to be thankful for, and one way we can show our gratitude is by tackling this $15 trillion debt and giving generations to come a future free from oppressive debt and taxation.

Paul Ryan, a Republican, represents Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Kenosha County.


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