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The 12 Principles of Fiscal Responsibility for the 2012 Campaign

December 15, 2011 |
  1. Make Deficit Reduction a Top Priority.
  2. Propose Specific Fiscal Targets.
  3. Recommend Specific Policies to Achieve the Targets.
  4. Do No Harm.
  5. Use Honest Numbers and Avoid Budget Gimmicks.
  6. Do Not Perpetuate Budget Myths.
  7. Do Not Attack Someone Else's Plan Without Putting Forward an Alternative.
  8. Refrain From Pledges That Take Policies Off the Table.
  9. Propose Specific Solutions for Social Security, Health Care, and the Tax Code.
  10. Offer Solutions for Temporary and Expiring Policies.
  11. Encourage Congress to Come Up With a Budget Reform Plan as Quickly as Possible.
  12. Remain Open to Bipartisan Compromise.


The 12 Principles

The United States faces a number of serious fiscal and economic challenges. Federal budget deficits are projected for the foreseeable future, the economy continues to be weak, high unemployment persists, Social Security faces long-term financing concerns, health care spending is growing faster than the economy—putting immense pressure on the budget, tax policy is at a major crossroads, and our national debt continues to rise. Inattention to the ballooning national debt threatens to undermine the long-term state of the economy and could lead to a serious fiscal crisis.

Simply put, our current debt trajectory is unsustainable. Historically, debt held by the public has averaged less than 40 percent of GDP since 1970. Today’s debt is 68 percent of GDP and rising fast, particularly due to the retirement of the baby boom population and rapid health care cost growth. The United States is currently at a crossroads, where fundamental but thoughtful changes can be made now, or else far more painful ones can be made later.

Our leaders will have to take concrete steps to confront these challenges, and some level of ideological sacrifice will be required. The sooner decisions are made, the better — both because it will give the public more time to adjust and because it will allow us to spread the sacrifices more broadly.

The 2012 campaign comes at a crucial time. Candidates can either illuminate these challenges by accommodating the needed national dialogue on how to confront them and by producing a mandate for real solutions, or they can obfuscate the issues by reducing them to sound bites and platitudes, exacerbating partisan divisions, and making harmful pledges and promises that endanger our long-term prospects for the sake of short-term political gain. The proclivity of candidates to propose grandiose (and costly) new initiatives in response to problems in order to attract votes rather than espousing policies that could alienate key constituencies such as revenue increases or spending cuts means that campaigns often degenerate into the obfuscation route.

Instead, candidates should take the responsible route and follow the 12 simple principles below.


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