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Federal debt crisis too costly to ignore

With the media and political class focused on the GOP primaries and the presidential election, we have begun 2012 with all of the excitement and interest that national election campaigns bring to public life. Yet, as important as these elections may be, we face a much bigger issue — one that affects jobs, national security and our domestic tranquility.

We are deep in a national crisis over our federal spending and our unsustainable national debt. This should inspire us to rise above partisan advantage and political calculation. With the national debt, including federal obligations that are "off the books," continuing to increase at an alarming rate we can no longer avoid the tough decisions that are necessary to resolve this crisis.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects America's debt to rise from 69 percent of our gross domestic product today to 75 percent by 2020. A debt level of such huge proportions will choke off economic growth and burden our youth with debt obligations and interest that will deny them of an economically prosperous future.

And, if that is not bad enough, the CBO is only talking about the public portion of our bonded debt — that is, the approximately $10 trillion of Treasury bills, bonds, and notes held by investors, including well over $1 trillion to China.

Another $5 trillion is owed to the so-called Trust Funds for Social Security and Medicare, bringing our total bonded debt to approximately $15 trillion, or 100 percent of our GDP.

In one of my first speeches on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, I held up my plastic voting card and called it "the most expensive credit card in the world." Unlike a personal credit card, a congressional voting card has no limit except the statutory debt ceiling. But that has not been an effective brake on government spending, since it is routinely breached.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform framed the issue perfectly in late 2010 when it said that, "Deep down, every American knows we face a moment of truth once again. We cannot play games or put off hard choices any longer. Without regard to party, we have a patriotic duty to keep the promise of America to give our children and grandchildren a better life."

We are at a pivotal moment. Our debt and spending crisis needs immediate and urgent attention.

We can no longer delay and paper over the problem with budgetary tricks and go on scoring political points.Americans must urge our leaders to craft the sort of long-term, game-changing solutions that rise above partisan politics and are aimed squarely at taming our nation's debt dilemma.

We must join in the common cause of defeating our debt crisis in the same way previous generations united to conquer other major threats and enemies.

Teddy Roosevelt once famously said, "In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing."

This Article was Originally Published in Times Union

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