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Katherine Gehl & Maya MacGuineas: Debt and deficits rising: Who has courage?

Apr 4, 2016 | Budgets & Projections

Katherine Gehl, former president & CEO of Gehl Foods, Inc., and a member of the CEO Fiscal Leadership Council of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, and Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and head of the Campaign to Fix the Debt wrote a guest post for Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel. It is reposted here.

We are at a pivotal stage in the 2016 presidential primary season. The candidate field has narrowed, both parties are inching closer toward selecting their respective nominees for the general election, and the race has shifted to an important primary contest here in Wisconsin on April 5.

But voters are still waiting for candidates in both parties to show the courage and leadership necessary to credibly and comprehensively address our mounting debt — which continues to threaten our economy, our financial well-being and our ability to address other important national priorities.

Imagine it's Jan. 20, 2017. The president-elect takes the oath of office at the West Front of the Capitol and then delivers an inaugural address, outlining an ambitious vision for the country. But he or she faces a gross national debt that is on track to grow to more than $29 trillion by 2026. That's $215,000 for each and every household.

And without a sustainable fiscal vision, the next president's ability to lead an ambitious agenda and meet other national challenges will be severely limited. That's what's at stake in this presidential election.

Both Democratic and Republican candidates have continuously emphasized their ability to lead. But leadership means little absent political will. A case in point: it's common practice for bipartisan budget deals to be deficit-financed. Specifically, each party agrees to give the other party something it wants (which always costs money), and both parties agree to look the other way when they can't pay for the deal. Instead, our politicians cut their deal at the expense of our long-term fiscal health. That's the part they don't tell the public.

In 2015, every major deal affecting the budget was partially deficit-financed. That's extraordinary. And yet it passes for success in the dysfunction that is Washington, D.C.

This is no way to run a country. This culture is the challenge our next president will have to contend with. He or she must be ready to tell Congress and the country — including members of their own party and their donors —they won't sign one of these short-term deals.

Here's the good news: Past bipartisan commissions such as Simpson-Bowles and Domenici-Rivlin have established the broad outlines of a possible compromise on debt and deficit reduction. There still are solutions to the challenge if we elect a president who combines leadership with courage and political will.

Our next president needs to be a leader who will leave all policy options on the table and work in a bipartisan way to reduce our mounting debt.

We simply cannot afford to put off this issue any longer.

"My Views" are works published by members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the committee.