We can solve our fiscal woes if we rise above partisanship

Posted: September 11, 2012

PARTISANSHIP in Washington is threatening to put the economy in recession at year's end, or else leave us with damaging levels of debt. Those are the options facing Washington if the two parties remain unwilling to come together and replace the so-called fiscal cliff with a thoughtful and gradual plan to put the debt on a more sustainable path.

If we do nothing, a combination of blunt and immediate across-the-board spending cuts, dramatic tax-rate increases and other changes will throw the economy back into recession while slashing important investments, crippling our military capabilities and raising taxes on ordinary Americans. Yet if we put off the day of reckoning, and continue what we're doing today, we will see our national debt rise to astronomical levels, leading to stagnant wages, higher interest rates on loans and, potentially, another economic crisis.

Both parties need to come together and agree on a third way forward - one that requires them to give up some of the programs and tax breaks they like for the country they love. Fortunately, our elected officials in Pennsylvania have been leading the way. Pennsylvanians know how to compromise on policies without compromising on principle to get things done.

There is no better example of this than U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah. Congressman Fattah has his own plan to fix the debt - one that would ask all Americans to pay a small "transaction tax" in order to reduce the deficit. But he understands that the national debt is too serious a threat to hold out for his (or anyone's) perfect solution, and this week threw his support behind the bipartisan plan of the Simpson-Bowles Fiscal Commission.

As he wrote to his colleagues, "The Simpson-Bowles proposal is the only solution before Congress that has bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress" and "there is no question the nation must begin to make some hard choices now."

The plan requires tough medicine for everyone, but the solution is clear: Democrats must accept changes to make our entitlement programs sustainable and Republicans must accept tax reforms resulting in higher revenue. Both sides are under intense pressure from groups trying to take options off the table. But the simple reality is that fixing the debt will require a bipartisan solution that looks at virtually all areas of the budget.

Congressman Fattah is not the only prominent Pennsylvanian putting country over party to pursue viable solutions.

Earlier this year, 38 brave members of Congress bucked the regular practice of voting along party lines on budget resolutions and instead supported a bipartisan budget. Among the 38 were five Pennsylvanians: Democratic Reps. Fattah and Allyson Schwartz and Republican Reps. Charlie Dent, Todd Platts and Pat Meehan.

As our debt continues to grow, more and more members of Congress from both parties are taking a second look at Simpson-Bowles. They are realizing that although it may not be their ideal plan, it represents the type of principled compromise necessary to deal with a problem of this magnitude while protecting the core values of both parties. And as we approach the fiscal cliff, members in both parties are correctly concluding that such a bipartisan solution is far preferable to the consequences of continued gridlock and inaction.

This issue is too important for continued partisan bickering. Our elected officials in Pennsylvania understand that, and I know the residents of this great state do as well. That's why I've decided to co-chair, along with former Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, a new Campaign to Fix the Debt.

The Campaign to Fix the Debt is a joint effort of CEOs, former elected officials and leading budget experts, along with tens of thousands of concerned citizens. We have come together from all different backgrounds around a common goal: to urge Congress and the president to enact a comprehensive plan to put the country's debt on a stable and downward path. The stakes are incredibly high; the consequence of failing to act is almost unimaginable.

I urge my fellow Pennsylvanians to make their voices heard and join this campaign by visiting fixthedebt.org. There, you can sign a petition to let Washington know you are tired of partisanship getting in the way of action, and that it's time to come together on a comprehensive plan to get this done.

I also urge you to support the $10 Million a Minute National Fiscal Responsibility Bus Tour, which comes to Philadelphia on Tuesday. You can find out more about it at 10millionaminute.com. You can also join us in spreading the word with your friends and neighbors and encouraging your elected officials to put the national interest ahead of special interest to fix the debt.

Pennsylvanians are leading the way in reaching real commonsense solutions, but much work remains to be done. We can't let this country go into another recession, or worse into fiscal crisis, because of rigid partisanship and unwillingness to compromise. That's not the Pennsylvanian way, and it isn't the American way.


Rendell is former governor of Pennsylvania, former mayor and district attorney of Philadelphia.

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