With talks in D.C. relentlessly concentrating on the threat of a sequester, I have spent a lot of time thinking back to an event I participated in a few weeks ago. On February 6th I took part in an event that was so obvious in value, yet so rare in practice these days. I sat down with a group of leaders from different backgrounds who had different views from me, and we had a constructive dialogue on a serious issue. The event was the Common Ground Summit, hosted by the Campaign to Fix the Debt, and the serious issue is our national debt.
An amazing thing happened when I took part in this discussion. People shared their views and truly listened to each other. In the end, we found that we had a lot more in common than we thought, and this was not a case of people preaching to their respective choirs. The Summit brought together nearly 100 leaders representing organizations about as diverse and politically disparate as you could imagine, including think tanks, faith-based groups, health organizations, advocacy groups, charities, trade associations, businesses, and multicultural groups. When we discussed the national debt, of course we had our differences, but we agreed on some fundamental priorities like the importance of a balanced and gradual approach to addressing the problem, the need to preserve safety net programs for future generations, and the need to fix the political gridlock in Washington and restore faith in government.
This is precisely the kind of bipartisan dialogue we need in Washington, D.C. to address our nation’s debt problem, and Hispanic leaders, in particular, need to step up and make sure that it happens. The Hispanic population is the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S. and is expected to double to nearly 130 million people by 2060. Already, one in every four children in the U.S. is Hispanic, and they are the ones who will inherit a weaker economy, higher interest rates, and a lower standard of living unless our elected leaders make the tough decisions now to bring our debt under control in the future.
The Hispanic community has grown not only in size but also in prominence, as evidenced by the influence of the Hispanic vote in the presidential election and a buying power worth $1 trillion that is expected to grow to $1.5 trillion in the next five years. With this level of growth comes a greater responsibility to ensure that we have a strong economic future to pass on to our children. At no other time in U.S. history has the Hispanic voice held as much power as it yields today. And there is no better time than now to use that voice to call on our elected leaders to fix the unsustainable trajectory of our national debt. If we do nothing, the Hispanic population, 60 percent of which is under the age of 35, will be disproportionately burdened by the consequences of inaction.
Hispanic leaders must stand up and demand that the president and Congress put aside partisan politics and create a balanced and long-term plan to put our national debt on a downward trajectory relative to the economy. This means putting everything on the table, including long-term reforms to Social Security and Medicare to make these programs solvent for future generations, smart cuts to discretionary spending, and simplifying the tax code to raise revenue and get rid of unfair loopholes that most Americans never see.
As president of the National Puerto Rican Coalition, I hope that other Hispanic leaders join me in urging the president and Congress to come together and work toward a bipartisan solution to our national debt. On March 1, sequestration is scheduled to take effect. The mindless and automatic spending cuts under sequestration were intended to be so severe and have such a negative economic impact that it would force our elected leaders to come up with a smarter plan to control our spending. No matter how we got here, the time has come for our elected leaders to be courageous and work across the aisle toward a more thoughtful and comprehensive solution to our national debt. Doing so will restore our confidence in government; create certainty in the markets to spur investments in innovation and jobs; and allow the government to focus on other priorities, like job creation, education, and immigration.
As President Obama said during his State of the Union address, when it comes to deficit reduction, “we need to finish the job.” Reaching a bipartisan, comprehensive solution to our national debt will not be easy; it will require compromise and everyone will have to agree to give up something for the sake of our collective future. No one will be completely happy with the result, but if all are willing to live with it, we will know that it was done right. The Hispanic community knows the meaning of sacrifice. We work hard and make sacrifices every day so that our children can have a better future than our own. It is time for Washington, D.C. to do the same.
Rafael Fantauzzi, President and CEO, National Puerto Rican Coalition (NPRC)