By Senator Johanns
When the Joint Select Committee for Deficit Reduction was created, it marked an opportunity for our country. Here we were -- a country with a $15 trillion national debt and trending upward; a country three years into a spendthrift Administration which had already increased the debt by nearly 50 percent; a country with nine percent unemployment-- coming together pledging to reverse these trends in a bipartisan fashion. Last week's failure of the so-called "super committee" to reach an agreement to reduce the deficit was a missed opportunity of historic proportions. But it was not our last chance.
Though the committee has now dissolved, the legislation that created it included one important provision: if a plan to decrease the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over ten years was not implemented, cuts totaling that amount would be applied across the board automatically in 2013. This would have an effect on most aspects of federal spending -- including Medicare providers and defense. Clearly, this is not an ideal situation, which is why it was included in the first place: an incentive to work together to reach a more beneficial solution.
Congress still has 13 months to pass legislation reducing the deficit instead of implementing these across-the-board cuts. The joint committee was meant to be a streamlined mechanism to do so, but we still have other, more traditional options. We have the time, and now need the willpower, to do what is right.
There are several paths already laid out. Back in December of 2010, the Simpson-Bowles Debt Commission authorized by President Obama produced a promising framework upon which we could build. But the President quickly turned his back on his own committee once he saw their report. In light of the super committee's failure, it would serve the country well for the President to exert the power of Presidential leadership in reviving this commission's proposal as a renewed opportunity for a bipartisan solution or one of the other proposals that makes a serious attempt to tackle our nation's unsustainable deficit.
For example, in the Senate, I see growing momentum behind a proposal by the so-called Gang of Six, three Democrats and three Republicans, who continue to meet regularly. I've pledged to do all I can to help them bridge divides in their effort to finalize a package which could receive the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate.
There is still much work to be done to achieve a sensible solution and avoid the arbitrary cuts scheduled for 2013. At a time when the federal government is borrowing roughly 42 cents of every dollar it spends, I am committed to working with my colleagues on a positive, bipartisan solution. Achieving significant deficit reduction is critical not only for citizens today but for the future generations of tomorrow.