Rob Foregger on Fixing the Debt (Opinion)
America's debt is out of control -- $16 trillion in public debt and counting. That’s $55,000 for every newborn child in America.
The elephant -- or donkey in the room, depending on one’s political lens -- is our national debt. The election, in many ways, is just the formal warm-up for the post-election main event, a heavyweight fight to decide how we tackle our national debt.
As a fellow entrepreneur, we all know that many circumstances and market events are beyond our control. An old piece of advice that I give new entrepreneurs is to focus on controlling the controllable; this is the same advice I would now like to give to Washington. The tangible economic drag and damaging uncertainty caused by our national debt is the single largest risk to our anemic economy, and can and should be brought prudently under control now.
To get a feel for just how damaging uncertainty can be, a recent study by San Francisco Federal Reserve economists Sylvan Luc and Zheng Liu concluded that the “higher uncertainty level during the Great Recession increased the unemployment rate by 1 to 2 percent.” Each percentage point difference means 1.5 million American jobs. This is why we decided inaction is not an option. This is also why entrepreneurs and business owners should join our cause, and eliminate the largest uncertainty in the market, and the largest impediment to growth.
Eight weeks ago, five friends and I launched “The Citizen’s Petition to Fix the Debt,” calling on our leaders to forge a comprehensive and non-partisan solution to reduce the national debt. More than 250,000 concerned citizens have signed the petition. Our aim is to have millions of signatures.
We are accidental activists, pushed into action by America's looming fiscal crisis that Washington seems unwilling to tackle. The debt crisis touches everyone, and everything that we value about our nation: a strong social safety net, national security, economic growth, education and pragmatic, common-sense leadership.
Compromise, which is at the core of our democracy from the time of our founders, is essential to any solution on the debt. If our elected officials continue to hold compromise hostage in favor of partisan wrangling it is the next generation that will bear the brunt. We will all have failed.
Most Americans feel overwhelmed by the debt problem and powerless to do anything about it. But optimism is a powerful force, and I was fortunate to have five friends from across the political spectrum who felt as strongly as I did. We knew our small contribution to America's biggest problem lay in exercising democracy and giving people an accessible, understandable bullhorn to make our voices heard in Washington. We decided the time to act is now, not next month, not after the election.
We started by sending our Citizen's Petition to our friends, family and colleagues. With nothing to lose, we also contacted former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, whose Simpson-Bowles plan to forge a meaningful non-partisan solution to the debt with former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson had inspired us. Not only did Mr. Bowles become one of our first signatories, he and Mr. Simpson formally endorsed The Campaign to Fix the Debt, a non-partisan effort launched in July.
Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson have worked tirelessly to educate America on the consequences of inaction on the debt. Just as importantly, they have put forth a plan that is fair, thorough and protects America's most vulnerable. To quote Mr. Bowles: "The debt crisis is the most predictable and avoidable financial crisis in the history of the United States."
The growing debt will exhaust our finite resources in both the public and private sectors, portending a bleak future for this nation. Held hostage by debt, America will decline economically and see vastly diminished government and private investment across the board, from education to research, to health services and social programs. America, as we know it, will be unrecognizable. America’s dynamic entrepreneurs and job creators will be rendered inoperable.
Washington's dysfunction has only deepened our resolve. In a short period of time, people from across ideological and geographic spectrums have signed the Citizen's Petition. We're asking our elected leaders to forge a meaningful, long-term solution, which includes cutting spending, streamlining government, simplifying the tax code and eliminating tax loopholes.
Our principles are as follows:
- American’s debt is unsustainable.
- Any solution must address all parts of the budget.
- Any solution must protect America’s core values.
- Finding common ground is essential.
- The national interest is more important than any special interest.
Optimism, as they say, is the fuel of heroes, the enemy of despair and the architect of the future. If there is any force left in the country that can still move mountains, it is the people’s resolve. We hope millions of others will join us to sign the Citizen’s Petition to Fix the Debt at www.FixTheDebt.org and demand action right now. Together we can make a difference. If our leaders won't lead, then the people must. Join us.
Rob Foregger is an entrepreneur, dad, husband, Vermonter and an accidental activist, dedicated to mobilizing citizens to push for a bipartisan solution to fix the debt. Foregger co-founded Personal Capital and EverBank, one of the first online banks, and was the president of Fidelity Investments Personal Trust Co. Foregger is one of six people from Vermont, New York and San Francisco who launched the People’s Petition to Fix the Debt after a heated political discussion at a barbecue over Memorial Day.