The following article originally appeared on USA Today.
The 2016 presidential race is beginning in earnest with new candidates entering the crowded field weekly. The Republican Party boasts a host of compelling and well qualified aspirants, many of whom I have known and served with for years. They bring a wealth of experience and policy savvy to a nation sorely in need of a rebound following the many failures of the federal government during the Obama presidency.
Yet despite their numbers, none of them is addressing in a meaningful way the greatest threat to our republic: our gigantic and rapidly growing national debt. America’s cumulative borrowing is rapidly approaching $20 trillion, while the federal government's unfunded liabilities (future expenditures minus future tax revenue) now exceed a whopping $127 trillion — better than $1.1 million per taxpayer.
That’s not merely unsustainable; it’s suicidal.
Following a similarly risky path, Greece has now defaulted on its obligations, sending a shock wave through financial markets around the world. This was a crisis that could have been avoided through sound fiscal policy, but the Greek government has for years lacked the political will to do what it takes to secure that nation’s financial health. The nightly news showcases the unfolding Greek tragedy as though it were another TV reality show. A country on the verge of collapse, full steam ahead on a similar trajectory as the American economy — and journalists are largely silent.
Closer to home, Puerto Rico teeters on the edge of financial ruin and risks enormous damage to municipal bond funds and other instruments relied on by millions of Americans to help protect their long-term financial security.
Let’s be clear: The United States must end the cycle of endless and unsustainable debt that we’ve seen elsewhere around the world, or it will face the same fate as other nations before us.
Doing nothing to improve Social Security’s solvency will only result in an empty trust fund and risks to future benefits for everyone. The same is true of every other budget-busting program in our bloated federal budget.
With these facts in mind, I must ask those running for the White House to lead America as our next president, particularly those in my party: What is your plan to deal with this? To the news media, why are you not asking our future leaders this question?
If I were given an opportunity to ask a question of the candidates during one of the debates, I would ask: Which one of you is going to work toward decreasing the size and scope of the federal government and returning the power and decision-making back to the states?
The truth is, our leaders in Washington — of both parties — don’t want to have to deal with this potentially calamitous issue. They like the status quo that keeps them in power — on your nickel. Candidates up for re-election in 2016 should be held accountable for their lack of stewardship of the taxpayer’s money. However, with a major election on the horizon, no one wants to explain his responsibility for America’s massive debt.
Too many hollow promises have been made on the campaign trail from candidates who won’t attempt to take the necessary actions to back them up. Washington doesn’t have a plan because it only knows how to add to the problem. Washington is addicted to spending, and for generations, politicians have wanted to spend more and more with no regard for how we are mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren. Our kids and their kids deserve better.
It would be naive to believe that those in power would voluntarily give up their control to make a necessary change. We have more than 200 years of history that proves Washington never voluntarily relinquishes power.
That is why the only reasonable, constitutional solution is an Article V Convention of the States to change the Constitution. An amending convention would do two things: Enable a national conversation about the challenges facing our nation, and give back a voice to the people. Article V of the Constitution gives state legislatures the authority to call a convention of states that bypasses Congress to amend the Constitution, and it should be used to rein in Washington’s excesses, which threaten the very foundation of our nation.
Washington has an uncontrollable spending habit. The founders gave us a way to combat this federal abuse of authority by calling for a Convention of the States.
Presidential candidates, are you listening?
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Tom Coburn, a former Republican member of the U.S. Senate from Oklahoma, is a senior adviser to Convention of States, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance.
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