1. Opinion

Column: We need another Simpson-Bowles commission to tackle the national debt

Published May 10, 2018

Our national debt keeps growing each second of each day. We are now at the $21 trillion mark with no end in sight. Does anyone care about this issue? Some members from both sides of the aisle occasionally comment on this.

The more we wait to tackle this issue, the more difficult it will be to solve. From Presidents George Washington to Bill Clinton, the national debt rose to $5.6 trillion. Under President George W. Bush, the debt increased to $10.6 trillion in eight years. Under President Barack Obama, the national debt nearly doubled as it soared to $20 trillion in eight years. Our two previous presidents did a poor job managing the national debt.

President Donald Trump has been leading our country in achieving higher economic gains since his tenure began. By reducing burdensome regulations and cutting the business tax to be competitive with other G-20 countries, America will now be better positioned to compete on the global stage on a more level playing field.

We were stuck in anemic economic growth the eight years of the previous administration, but we have now eclipsed, surpassed or nearly reached 3 percent GDP growth each quarter since last year. Higher economic growth will help reduce the national debt, along with entitlement reform and other related measures. Tax reform is projected to bring more than $2 trillion parked overseas by U.S. corporations back to the United States. Apple has already announced that it is bringing back $250 billion.

We are shirking our responsibility by not addressing our national debt issue on a bipartisan basis. President Abraham Lincoln once said: "You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today."

The longer we wait to find a solution, the more painful it will be for our country. We need the president to appoint another bipartisan commission similar to Simpson-Bowles back in 2010. We need to get a strong, bipartisan, independent group together to make recommendations to Congress to tackle this issue. Perhaps neither the will nor the means exist in Congress today to tackle this tough issue.

Simpson-Bowles (from the names of co-chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles) was a presidential commission created in 2010 by President Obama to identify how to solve our nation's short- and long-term debt problems. The commission first met on April 27, 2010; a final report was released on Dec. 1, 2010. The report was supported by more than 60 percent of the members (11 out of 18), and an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.

However, the report did not reach the 14-vote threshold required to formally endorse the blueprint and have it sent to Congress for approval. Many praised the plan for hitting all parts of the federal budget and for putting the national debt on a stable and then downward path.

The co-chairs' proposal reformed Social Security and the tax code and also included health-care savings and an illustrative savings of $200 billion of discretionary cuts. At the time, our national debt was about $13 trillion and that plan would have reduced it by $4 trillion over a 10-year period.

The final plan would have stabilized the growth of debt held by the public by 2014, reduced debt 60 percent by 2023 and 40 percent by 2035. We could have shown the world that the United States was getting its financial house in order if this plan had been approved.

Was this plan perfect? No, because no plan is; but it was a start. Even though President Obama had appointed this commission, he failed to take an active LBJ-style presidential leadership in advocating the members for approval. Now, our debt is at $21 trillion and it is expected to continue growing. I believe President Trump would take a more active role in pushing and advocating for approval of a commission's recommendations.

This is not just an economic issue, but is also a national security issue. Many budget experts are saying that in less than 20 years, 100 percent of our nation's budget will consist of entitlements and servicing interest on the debt. How will we pay for the defense of our country? How will we pay for education, our children's needs, road building and all the other non-entitlement expenditures of our country? By borrowing more? That is not the answer.

Our failure to act now will only saddle future generations with the debt. If we fail to take action now, we may be placing our children and grandchildren on a dead-end street with no way out. We owe them much more than that. We should hand over a stronger and better America to future generations of Americans.

Alex Sanchez is president and CEO of the Florida Bankers Association.