In the coming weeks, our national leaders face extraordinary challenges. To avoid defaulting on our obligations and sending the world economy into a tailspin, we must raise the debt limit by August 2nd. But we also face the daunting task of balancing the budget and reducing our deficit, while at the same time avoiding the enactment of any solutions that will exacerbate the serious and stubborn joblessness in this country. Unfortunately as debate and negotiations over the debt ceiling have progressed, all of these issues seem to have been inextricably linked to one another, setting the stage for an unprecedented and dangerous path forward.
These are serious problems, and if the White House and Congressional leadership want to solve them they must stop conflating the process with the very real issues that need resolution. If they resisted the extreme urgings of some in their party to hold out for unpalatable concessions on budget cuts, serious policymakers in the center could hammer out bi-partisan solutions and mature policy decisions.
Therefore, for the good of the country, I urge the negotiators to undertake the following process:
1. Agree to raise the debt limit. Period. Disagreeable as it may be for some, this necessary step should not be held hostage by budget negotiations around spending and budget balancing. The United States cannot stop paying its bills for debts already incurred. The results would be catastrophic.
2. Hammer out a budget and deficit reduction plan on a bipartisan basis. Realize that some of the choices will be difficult and somewhat unpopular, but they must be made. Do not use these talks to put forth an ideological agenda that does not save money for our national budget. This spring we wasted valuable time on restrictions on spending existing health care program budgets on birth control and family planning programs simply because of ideological political opposition. Had they succeeded, those programmatic restrictions would actually not have reduced our federal deficit. Instead, open every program to scrutiny, including defense, agriculture subsidies, and domestic programs. Keep an eye on equity and shared sacrifice; meaning revenue must be on the table.
3. Do not use Social Security and Medicare to balance the programs. Recognize that they are separate trust funds which, while solvent for the next few years and decades, must be reviewed for long-term viability. Put together a bi-partisan commission, similar to Ronald Reagan's National Commission on Social Security Reform, to review the details of those programs as they affect future generations, while realizing that current beneficiaries have made their retirement plans around current frameworks and cannot reasonably accept changes.
Too great a burden, you say? If our federal elected leadership put aside the hyper-partisanship of the last few years, agree to these simple ground rules and sit down, they should be able to accomplish this task. My constituents expect nothing less.
Congresswoman Diana DeGette (CO-1) is Chief Deputy Whip and Ranking Member on the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.