Reducing national debt should be a top priority

It will take teamwork to find middle ground, combine ideas and not let perfection stand in the way of good solutions

By now, voters have probably heard their fill of what grave problems face the country, as every interest group under the sun wants to insert itself into the political debate.

But amidst all the issues on voters’ minds, there is one that should overshadow all others: our bloated national debt.

In recent years, well-intentioned but careless policies have left us severely overextended. Left unaddressed, our debt will continue to grow, which could push the country back into recession.

Today, our national debt weighs in at more than $16 trillion. The publicly held portion of our debt — the metric economists find most useful — represents more than 70 percent of GDP.

Allowed to continue on the same path, it likely will exceed the size of the economy in a decade. Such sizable levels of debt aren’t sustainable. As they grow, investments will shrink, the U.S. will become less competitive and overall economic growth will fall off.

The problem is immediate and long-term. The most pressing matter is a rapidly approaching “fiscal cliff” — an appropriate term for billions of dollars of spending cuts and tax increases set to kick in Jan 1.

The deadline was scrapped altogether last year in talks to address the U.S. debt ceiling, and while going over the fiscal cliff would initially reduce the deficit, experts collectively agree that it would cause the economy to shrink by 3.9 percent annually in the first quarter of 2013. This is not the kind of deficit reduction we need.

A quick fix won’t be enough to solve the root problem; we have to address the sickness, not just the symptoms.

Through targeted tax reforms and thoughtful spending cuts, lawmakers will have to put the now-escalating debt on a gradual drawdown as a share of the economy.

In order to enact the kind of balanced approach we need to secure real, long-term fiscal stability, leaders will have to work together, make compromises and set aside ideology for the larger good.

The dangers of failing to act aren’t just a bunch of hypothetical what-ifs. Already, uncertainty stirred by speculation of whether Congress will be able to avert the fiscal cliff is deterring companies from hiring.

And Moody’s Investor Services has threatened to downgrade our county’s credit rating if we don’t avoid the cliff and implement long-term deficit reduction.

As the president and CEO of Climate Prosperity Enterprise Solutions, I understand that kicking the can is not a business solution. We cannot afford to ignore the debt any longer.

Instead, we’ll need to generate greater tax revenue and tactically cut unnecessary spending. Important public programs will have to be improved to operate more efficiently.

There very well may not be a perfect solution to get all that done. It will take teamwork to find middle ground, combine ideas and not let perfection stand in the way of good solutions.

Already, individuals from all walks of life have mobilized to advocate meaningful change. Recently, the Campaign to Fix the Debt – a coalition of business executives, public leaders, academics and everyday Americans – launched efforts to urge Congress and the White House to act, and act now.

I urge you, and all those across New Hampshire concerned about the future of our economy and our country, to join the movement by signing the petition at

As a country, we tackle our problems collectively. It’s what makes the American spirit strong.

Together we can, and must, tackle our debt while it’s still in our power to do so.

Richard N. Swett, CEO of Concord-based Climate Prosperity Enterprise Solutions, represented New Hampshire’s 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991-94 and served as ambassador to Denmark from 1988-91.

Categories: Opinion