Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Facing the Truth: The Implications of the National Debt

Greer Gamble


December 10, 2010
by Greer Gamble

The official title for the Report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, “The Moment of Truth,” reveals a great deal about the state of this nation and its leaders.  Presented with a range of partisan ideas on the best ways to reduce the national debt, which is currently approaching $14 trillion, the Commission faced criticism from every direction.  But in the end, the panel succeeded in crafting a legitimate bi-partisan effort that confronted the cold hard truth of the deficit, attempting to eliminate all “excess spending—defense spending, domestic discretionary spending, entitlement spending, & spending in the tax code.”  According to the Commission, co-chaired by former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyoming, “We must stabilize then reduce the national debt, or we could spend $1 trillion a year in interest alone by 2020. A sensible, real plan requires shared sacrifice—and Washington should lead the way and tighten its belt.”  

Following the recent midterm elections it is clear that citizens want solutions rather than more of the same.  The President, in his November 30 meeting with Republican leaders said, “The American people did not vote for gridlock.  They didn’t vote for unyielding partisanship.  They’re demanding cooperation and they’re demanding progress.”  Americans agree that the national debt is out of control and worry that their opportunity for justice is increasingly out of reach, both because of the potential impact of the debt on critical government programs and its effect on our unstable economy.         
Sadly, Capitol Hill’s divisive culture has resulted in cutthroat partisanship on far less contentious legislation. While honoring the noble intentions of the Commission, we must ask if it is possible to enact a proposal that will necessarily offend people on all sides? It comes as no surprise that the Commission’s proposed plan to cut $4 trillion from the debt over the next 10 years fell short of the 14 votes needed to trigger a mandatory vote in Congress, garnering only 11 out of 18 votes.      

A thoughtful Christian response to the Commission’s current efforts would evaluate the role of government and the demands of justice in each area that is going to be significantly impacted.  Unfortunately the hypocrisy that riddles the discussion over the national debt is stifling the compromise and negotiation necessary for progress.  Specific interest groups demand ‘justice’ for themselves, neglecting the larger needs of the nation, and tainting the responsibility the government has towards all people.  The Center for Public Justice’s Guideline for Government states, “Citizens should approach government not as the power that can give them what they want, but as the authority that ought to uphold a just public order for them and for all their neighbors. Government’s true function is distorted and degraded if government becomes a mere broker of competing interest groups.”

While the Commission failed in its efforts to force Congress to act on its proposal, justice demands that fiscal responsibility be pursued on both sides of the aisle. This may take the form of comprehensive fiscal reform, or it may involve a more aggressive pursuit of fiscal responsibility in smaller efforts, but one way or the other, it must happen. After all, this is the Moment of Truth. How will America respond?

—Greer Gamble was an intern at the Center for Public Justice the fall semester 2010 and is a student at William Jessup University majoring in Public Policy.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”