The single greatest threat to our national security is our national debt. Last month, the debt topped $20 trillion. This should have sounded alarms throughout Washington. However, it went largely unnoticed and today it’s still business as usual.
Washington is on track to rack up another $11 trillion in debt over the next decade, and there’s another $100 trillion in future unfunded liabilities (consisting of spending of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, interest on the debt and pensions for federal employees) coming at us like a freight train. That’s close to $1 million for every household in America.
We also live in a world that’s more dangerous than anytime in our lifetimes, yet because of our government’s own intransigence, our global standing and military are in a weakened state.
America’s foreign policy has always depended on three precepts: development, diplomacy and defense. The debt and unfunded liabilities jeopardize our ability to fund each of them. For example, today we have the smallest Army since World War II, the smallest Navy since World War I, and the smallest and oldest Air Force ever.
I’ve traveled around the world to meet with our troops, foreign leaders and our diplomats, so we’ve seen the impact the debt is having on America’s ability to lead globally firsthand.
Admiral Mike Mullen, a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has repeatedly warned that the debt is the single greatest threat to our national security. In his confirmation hearing, Defense Secretary James Mattis said the same thing. When he said, "if you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition," he summed up how the debt is impacting our entire foreign policy.
There are five interwoven imperatives that could address this crisis.
First, we have to fix Washington’s broken budget process. It has only worked four times in the past 43 years and is the root cause of the crisis.
Second, we have to root out redundant spending in the federal government.
Third, we have to grow the economy. If we’re going to do so, we must change our tax code this year to one that is fairer and will make us more competitive with the rest of the world. We also have to continue to roll back harmful regulations and make full use of our energy resources.
Fourth, we have to save Social Security and Medicare before their trust funds go to zero in 17 years. The only way to do so is to bring them into the budget process.
Fifth, we have to get after the real drivers of rising health care costs.
Great nations fall over time when they allow fiscal and economic issues to spiral past the tipping point of a crisis. America has always been the best at responding to a moment of crisis, but we’re often the last to recognize it’s reached that we’re in a crisis.
We can meet the challenge again, but if we’re going to do so, we have to recognize that we are knee-deep into this crisis and act accordingly.