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If you've followed the national news even slightly over the last couple of months you know the country faces a "fiscal cliff" come January. A series of tax increases and budget cuts would automatically go into effect Jan. 1 without action by the president and Congress.
During the next few weeks there will be negotiations on how to avoid this crisis. However, lawmakers should be concerned not only about the "fiscal cliff" but about the nation's rising debt.
Last week a bipartisan group of current and former elected officials in Missouri announced the formation of a state chapter associated with the national Campaign to Fix the Debt. An Associated Press story said the national organization has a membership of more than 300,000 business leaders; current and former elected officials, among others.
Missouri's chapter includes former Republican U.S. senator Kit Bond, Democratic former governor Bob Holden, Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and Democratic state Treasurer Clint Zweifel. Each official remarked about the importance of addressing the country's debt problem and finding a solution.
The national organization was co-founded by Erskine Bowles and Sen. Alan Simpson, both having also served as co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Here are the group's core principles as listed on its website:
n Policymakers should acknowledge that our growing debt is a serious threat to the economic well-being and security of the United States.
n It is urgent and essential that we put in place a plan to fix America's debt. An effective plan must stabilize the debt as a share of the economy, and put it on a downward path.
n This plan should be enacted now, but implemented gradually to protect the fragile economic recovery and to give Americans time to prepare for the changes in the federal budget.
n In order to develop a fiscal plan that can succeed both financially and politically, it must be bipartisan and reforms to all areas of the budget should be included. The plan should:
-- Reform Medicare and Medicaid, improve efficiency in the overall health care system, and limit future cost growth;
-- Strengthen Social Security, so that it is solvent and will be there for future beneficiaries; and
-- Include comprehensive and pro-growth tax reform, which broadens the base, lowers rates, raises revenues, and reduces the deficit.
n The recommendations of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission and other recent bipartisan efforts, which saved $4 trillion and addressed all parts of the budget, provide an effective framework for such a plan.
n The plan should be conducive to long-term economic growth, protect the vulnerable, include credible enforcement mechanisms to ensure that the debt reduction is achieved, and leave the next generation better off.
We commend these Missouri leaders for joining the effort. While their willingness to step forward is admirable, an informed electorate and grassroots partners also can help the process. For more information, see the group's website at www.fixthedebt.org.