Time for Congress to do right

@CNNMoney October 17, 2011: 7:40 AM ET
Former Sens. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat, and Judd Gregg, a Republican, come together to urge the debt committee to have the

Former Sens. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat, and Judd Gregg, a Republican, come together to urge the debt committee to have the "courage" to really tackle the debt.

Former Sen. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, served in Congress for 30 years. Former Sen. Judd Gregg, a Republican from New Hampshire, served in Congress for more than 20 years and was his state's governor for two terms. Both retired earlier this year.

There's an old saying: "When all is said and done, more is usually said than done."

That is especially true in Congress, where robust debate usually far exceeds real progress on things that matter. It's not all that surprising. The very structure of our government -- with all of the checks and balances --inhibits rather than encourages bold and decisive action.

But for over two centuries, when faced with crisis, we have somehow always managed to find a way to fix some of the big and difficult problems confronting our country..

Now we face another crisis. This one is bigger and more difficult than many of the others.

Our crushing debt that continues to grow threatens to ruin our economy.

Blinder and Hubbard: Left and right agree

Moreover we have to try to fix it even as we are trying to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. It's hard to do, and it will require smart, tough decisions. If we succeed we will put our economy back on track to expand and create new jobs and new opportunity. If we do not, we face the potential of a future economic collapse.

Fortunately, something has happened in the Congress that could offer hope for real progress. One of the positive things to come out of this summer's debacle in the showdown about extending the debt ceiling was the creation of a congressional, bicameral super committee with extraordinary powers.

The super committee is unprecedented, unusual and in some ways troublesome. But if it exercises its power in bold and decisive ways, it could be the way this ship of state rights itself.

The so-called regular order in Congress has demonstrated no ability to solve this crisis.

The super committee throws the idea of checks and balances out the window and sets up the Congress to act with parliamentary dispatch.

This panel of 12 can by majority vote propose just about anything they want to in the area of deficit reduction. Its bill will go to both houses of Congress and must be voted on without amendments and requires only a majority vote to pass. That is extraordinary power.

The real question is how will the super committee use this unprecedented power?

We say be bold! Think big!

If we don't tame these deficits that exceed $1 trillion a year and stretch as far as the eye can see, we will have a massive economic meltdown. It will happen when the American people and the others around the world realize we can no longer pay off our debts and the dollar collapses. The question isn't whether this happens, but when.

National debt: What you need to know

To get our debt under control, we need to reduce our deficits over the next ten years by nearly $5 trillion dollars. Doing that requires:

--cutting excess spending;

--reducing duplication of federal programs;

--reforming entitlements (especially tackling the increasing costs in Medicare);

--and raising some additional revenue with a new tax code that is simple and fair with lower rates and fewer deductions.

We know that the super committee can't do all of this in just a matter of weeks.

But it has the power to set goals for the overall size of the government relative to our GDP.

Further, we believe the super committee should use its power to direct and require the regular congressional committees to meet the prescribed spending and revenue targets in an expedited fashion. The super committee can also include specific requirements for how and when they will be considered and met by the entire Congress.

If the super committee only reaches the stated goal of reducing by debt by $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion over ten years (or if it fails to reach any agreement), it will have done a great disservice to the American people. It is far short of what is needed to address this debt crisis, and we will continue to lurch toward fiscal chaos, recession and chronic unemployment. That is a future we can avoid if we have the courage to act now.

This is a rare opportunity. We say to the super committee: This is one of those rare moments where you have the opportunity to change the course of history.

For the sake of our country's economic future, you need to think big and bold.

When all is said and done, we want this to be one of those cases where more was done than said.

Editor's Note: This is part of CNNMoney's Project Compromise -- commentaries that bring together leading thinkers from the left and right to find common ground on how to address the national debt. To top of page

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