By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG —A baker’s dozen of Pennsylvania’s business and political leaders want to make sure people understand the enormity of the problem facing the country because of its $16 trillion national debt.
They’re joining the nationwide Fix the Debt Campaign, mobilizing around the idea the country needs a long-term plan to address the national debt. Now’s the time to act, campaigners say, before the country jumps off the “fiscal cliff” in January with $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts.
More than 289,000 people nationwide have signed a campaign petition.
In Pennsylvania, the 13-person steering committee includes business leaders, party chairs from both sides of the aisle and county commissioners. They plan to encourage Pennsylvanians to put grassroots pressure on Congress to enact a long-range plan to address the staggering debt.
Among them is Bill Stewart, a former Pennsylvania state senator. The only way lawmakers will make a plan is if they know voters care about the problem, he said.
“If this is not on the constituents’ radar, it’s not on the elected officials’ radar,” Stewart said. “The constituency understands it to the extent they know it’s bad, but I don’t believe they know how bad, and that’s what some of this effort is going to be about, to educate them on those facts.”
How bad is the debt? As of Oct. 24, it amounts to about $51,494 per citizen.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell is a co-chair of the nationwide campaign.
The campaign names businessman Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyoming, as the campaign’s co-founders, both of whom served as the co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Together they authored an oft-criticized debt-reduction plan in 2010, which the commission eventually rejected.
But the idea is still in the peripheral vision of lawmakers thinking about debt-reduction plans in relation to the fiscal cliff. The Fix the Debt Campaign cites the Simpson-Bowles Commission, the Domenici-Rivlin task force and discussions of the legislative Super Committee as past proposals that offer starting points toward debt reduction.
Despite no action on these plans, attention to the national debt is growing. A poll from youth advocacy organization Generation Opportunity released this week showed that 59 percent of Americans 18 to 29 say the national debt is the greatest threat to national security.
A chorus of political leaders from all over the political spectrum have said this — Ron Paul in 2004, Hillary Clinton in 2010 and, most recently, Mitt Romney during the final presidential debate. And yet, no long-term plan has stuck.
TJ Rooney, former chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said the national debt requires politicians to make tough decisions. Otherwise, all Pennsylvanians — and Americans — will be affected, he said.
“As interest payments we owe get bigger,” he said, “more resources will have to be diverted away from federal projects, things that really matter in today’s world like transportation problems, national defense projects, all kinds of things will take a hit, will have to take a hit, if we don’t engage fully right away.”
The full Pennsylvania steering committee for Fix the Debt includes:
- Mark Schweiker, former Pennsylvania governor
- Gene Barr, president and CEO, Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce
- TJ Rooney, former chairman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party
- Dave Patti, president and CEO, Pennsylvania Business Council
- Earl Baker, former chairman, Pennsylvania Republican Party
- Chris Reilly, York County commissioner
- Tyler Courtney, Westmoreland County commissioner
- Jason Fink, executive vice president, Lycoming County Chamber
- Bill Stewart, former state senator
- Pat McCune, president and CEO, Community Bank
- Ken Cuccinelli, board member, Economic Club of Pittsburgh
- Dwayne Keller, owner, Keller Financial Group
- Dale Kaplan, owner, Kaplan’s Careful Cleaners