West Virginians have a unique opportunity to lend a hand in fixing America's finances by joining me tomorrow in Charleston for a back-and-forth conversation with two of the people who know more about fixing the federal budget than anyone else in this country: Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.
Now, that might sound a little dull, but let me assure you that it is the kind of presentation that will keep you at the edge of your seat - and the kind of dialogue that every American who cares about our future needs to participate in. Alan and Erskine are straight shooters, and they will paint a dire picture of the facts - but they will also outline a bipartisan solution at our summit: "Our Finances & Our Future" - at 9 a.m. (Monday) at the Culture Center Theater. I invite all West Virginians to come and tell it like it is, too, because Washington needs to hear the hard truth from you about what the country's runaway spending is doing to our families and businesses.
No more politicians' talking points, no more rhetorical games, no more accounting gimmicks - the people I talk with are fed up with all of that, and so am I. The time has come to find a solution because our national debt, for the first time ever, now tops $16 trillion, and that affects everything the federal government does - whether it's equipping our soldiers around the world, caring for our elderly, educating our children or preventing crumbling bridges from collapsing on us. You name it - if you want to do it, you've got to pay for it.
Fortunately, we don't have to look far for a solution, because Erskine and Alan have provided one already. As the leaders of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, they produced a truly bipartisan blueprint for getting our fiscal house in order. And in the nearly two years since they presented their recommendations, no one has come up with a better starting point for a serious conversation about our out-of-control spending. That's why people who are serious about the deficit are coming together and getting behind this bipartisan blueprint.
We've got a big job ahead of us, but we don't have to reinvent the wheel. We do have to put our shoulders into it, however, and find the political willpower to get it done. The Bowles-Simpson plan is a solid foundation from which to start working on the deficit. It is a sensible balance of spending cuts, new revenue and entitlement fixes that will reduce our deficits by $4 trillion over the next 10 years.
No one is ready to sign off on every single recommendation in the Bowles-Simpson plan, not even Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. But we do have to start looking at alternatives to what is happening now - if you average it out, every workday the federal government spending almost $4.5 billion more than it takes in, borrowing 40 cents for every dollar it spends.
You don't need to be a mathematician to figure that bottom line.
The Bowles-Simpson recommendations came out just days after I got to Washington, and I expected other Senators to react to it with the same urgency I did, even though not all of them had been a Governor who had to balance the budget every year.
I certainly expected every one of them to feel a sense of urgency later when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, warned that the national debt was a bigger threat to America's national security than terrorism and nuclear war.
But so far, neither side has shown much enthusiasm - or leadership - for doing what needs to be done. In fact, both sides seem to have hunkered down behind partisan barricades, blaming each other for the budget deficits that have exploded over the last dozen years instead of having an honest discussion of the complicated fiscal choices our country faces today.
But finding a solution to our fiscal and economic challenges-and to do so in a responsible and bipartisan way - is urgent and serious business. There is no time to waste. Our options only get worse with time.
I know how much stronger our country will be once we fix our finances. I know because we did it in West Virginia and improved the quality of life in our state. Now, we've got to do the same thing for this country.
If we come together, we can replace political pettiness with national purpose. If we can find common ground, we can move to higher ground and usher in an era of unrivaled prosperity in this country that leaves no one behind.