My Declaration for the Fourth

Amid the cook-outs and fireworks this weekend, it is easy to forget the real reason we celebrate the Fourth of July. It is because 235 years ago the Continental Congress adopted a radical document stating that it was necessary for the 13 American colonies to severe their bonds to the British Empire in order for their inhabitants to enjoy the “unalienable rights” bestowed upon all men, namely “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Eventually, 56 men signed the Declaration of Independence, agreeing to “mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” It was not a hollow pledge. These were men of stature, and many of them of significant wealth. They had much to lose in attaching their names to this document. They put their status, wealth, and their very lives on the line in what was effectively treason against the Crown.

No doubt many of the delegates who signed the document did not agree with every single word in it, yet they signed it nonetheless, even though so much was at stake personally. These men from vastly different backgrounds and political inclinations banded together for a purpose that was larger than any of their individual interests.

And because these leaders were able to put their personal desires and differences aside in order to unite for a higher purpose, thousands of Americans took up their cause, leaving their homes, livelihoods and families to risk their lives fighting the most formidable army in the world in pursuit of independence. Unfortunately, we are now a long way from those days.

Today, our leaders are more inclined to make pledges that divide, instead of unite us. Politicians on the right are compelled by interest groups to pledge not to raise taxes, even to the point of maintaining inefficient tax preferences for oil, gas and ethanol and tax breaks for the wealthy. Lawmakers on the other side are pressured to pledge not to do anything that affects entitlement benefits.

The result is stalemate and inaction in addressing the budgetary challenges confronting the country. I believe that putting the U.S. on a fiscally sustainable path in a manner that enhances long-term economic growth and competitiveness is the challenge for our generation. We must recognize the moment at hand and summon the courage and cooperative spirit of our forefathers in meeting it.

Left unchecked our mounting national debt presents a dire threat that rivals that posed by any conceivable military or economic foe. Only through a bipartisan process in which both sides engage in good faith with all options on the table will we produce the appropriate response. All will find some provisions unpleasant, but we all must understand that our fiscal predicament is so grave that difficult choices and tradeoffs will be required. 

We can overcome this challenge and emerge a stronger nation, just as we have with every past ordeal that confronted us. But it will require the same spirit of shared sacrifice, cooperation, determination, and vision that we have collectively mustered in previous trials.

While this foe may not have a face, the consequence of failure certainly does. We need look no further than Greece to see the suffering and strife that can occur. While the effects in the U.S. may not be as pernicious, they will be far-reaching. Decisive action is required. The nation needs leadership now.

So, as we fire up the grill and light the fireworks, let’s also resolve to address our fiscal challenges with the same fortitude that this nation was founded on.

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