Going to China, Before China Comes to Us

In a thoughtful Washington Post op-ed this morning, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) calls for leadership and shared sacrifice on the issue of deficit reduction and urges President Obama to join the growing number of senators who have been brave enough to tackle this critical issue head on. He points to the six senators, himself included, who are writing the President's Fiscal Commission's recommendations into a bill, as exemplifying the kind of leadership we need on this issue.

Sen. Coburn draws a historical analogy with President Nixon's meeting with the Chinese premier in 1972. He says:

"For the president, dealing with our debt threat could be his 'Nixon goes to China' moment. Only a liberal Democratic president may be able to reform entitlements. Fortunately for the president, those of us who backed his own debt commission's plan have already gone to China. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) committed the heresy of backing some entitlement reform. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and I backed tax reform that would lower rates dramatically, stimulate economic growth and generate revenue by doing away with dysfunctional subsidies such as that for ethanol.

"Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) are inviting other members to join our delegation. If the president decides to go to China, he'll find plenty of company. We're all waiting for him."

Coburn rightfully argues that without action to address our debt, a crisis will force our hand -- with serious consequences for our economy. Policymakers in Washington must lead the way in preparing the nation and working together. Coburn recognizes that the hyper-partisan atmosphere is detrimental to progress on this issue. He states: 

What America needs now is not division and posturing but real leadership. Instead of campaign rhetoric, the president and Congress need to launch a campaign to educate the American people about this seminal moment in our history. How we respond to our looming debt crisis will determine whether we follow the path of previous republics that drowned under a rising tide of debt or whether we cheat history and continue the great and historical claim of American exceptionalism.

There will be pushback from interests on both sides of the political spectrum. Sens. Coburn, Crapo and Chambliss are already taking heat from a top conservative group fearing that there efforts will result in tax increases. Likewise, Sens. Conrad, Durbin, and Warner are facing attacks from the left for supporting the fiscal commission's Social Security reform proposals. However, they have responded by taking the high road, explaining that their efforts are done in the best interest of the nation. Furthermore, not addressing this pressing issue would be tantamount to reneging on their duties to defend the country from the threats it faces. There is an opportunity here to rise above partisan politics and safeguard the future of this country. But to do that, everyone must work together against the political risks.

The reference to going to China is especially relevant because it is our largest foreign creditor, a fact that is definitely not lost on the Chinese. A news report this week from Reuters examined in great detail how that association is affecting relations between the two countries. "Going to China" will be essential for the sake of our economy and international standing.