Seven warnings on the national debtPublished 10:28pm Saturday, January 11, 2014
By Congressman Randy Forbes
National debt has been a subject of discussion since our nation’s founding. Even in the midst of debate over the details of a national debt, our Founding Fathers found unity in this truth: Our government is obligated to repay debts. They understood that our nation is only as strong as our finances.
Fast forward to 2014. The national debt continues to increase every day. We are feeling the pain of decisions made in recent history that have led us to our current, and almost unfathomable, debt of more than $17 trillion. The national debt has become a cancer on our economy, choking job growth, threatening our national security and hampering our global competitiveness.
The following seven statements of warning and wisdom on the national debt were offered centuries ago. Today, however, they offer us timeless guidance in our approach toward the national debt:
- “… place economy among the first and most important of virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared.” (Thomas Jefferson, 1816)
- “No [financial] consideration is more urgent, than the regular redemption and discharge of the public debt: on none can delay be more injurious, or an economy of time more valuable.” (George Washington, 1793)
- “To say that the United States should be answerable for twenty-five millions of dollars without knowing whether the ways and means can be provided, and without knowing whether those who are to succeed us will think with us on the subject, would be rash and unjustifiable.” (James Madison, 1790)
- “…growth and entailment of a public debt, are indications soliciting the employment of a pruning knife.” (Thomas Jefferson, 1821).
- “As parents, we can have no joy, knowing that this government is not sufficiently lasting to ensure anything which we may bequeath to posterity: And by a plain method of argument, as we are running the next generation into debt, we ought to do the work of it, otherwise we use them meanly and pitifully. In order to discover the line of our duty rightly, we should take our children in our hand, and fix our station a few years farther into life; that eminence will present a prospect, which a few present fears and prejudices conceal from our sight.” (Thomas Paine, 1776).
- “We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude.” (Thomas Jefferson, 1816)
- “As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible: avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of Peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen which we ourselves ought to bear.” (George Washington, 1796)
Their warnings are simple: We cannot lean on debt as a crutch. We need to balance our budget. We must address our existing debt with urgency. We need to consider the result of our actions on future generations. We need to be creditworthy.
Leaders in Washington must have the resolve to stand up and heed these warnings. Only then will we return the United States to the path of economic prosperity and freedom for which our Founding Fathers knew we were destined.
Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at forbes.house.gov.