Reducing the federal government’s massive debt is the most important issue of the day and should be approached like fighting a war, former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici said Wednesday.
“We could lose the war, and losing the war would mean this great democracy would cease to be a powerful force in the world,” Domenici said during an afternoon session at the Domenici Public Policy Conference at New Mexico State University.
“Our children, who we promised a great life, would probably have a second-rate standard of living,” he said. “And if you don’t feel it yet, you should. We’re kind of getting poorer.”
Domenici is part of a think tank in Washington that’s working on tackling the debt issue, the Bipartisan Policy Center. The group’s Debt Reduction Task Force, which Domenici co-chairs, will soon be releasing its findings. Domenici said cuts to existing spending – including entitlement programs – and tax increases or other revenue raisers will both have to be on the table if the United States is going to win this war.
While many in Domenici’s Republican Party advocate for tax cuts and the resulting stimulation of economic growth to fix the economy, Domenici said that alone won’t do it.
“When I tell you that growth alone won’t do this, I’m not talking about theory,” Domenici said. “I’m talking about numbers.”
New Mexico’s longest-serving senator, who’s now 78, also acknowledged that cuts to entitlement programs won’t be popular.
“We’re not going to ask everybody to love us,” Domenici said. “We’re hoping and praying that the public won’t hate us.”
But the stakes are too high to not be honest, Domenici said. When the task force of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans got together to look for real, bipartisan solutions, he said they agreed that “everything has to be on the table.”
The task force’s report will be a “big barn burner,” Domenici said, but it has to be done for the good of the nation.
Iraq war has ‘been a terrible expense’
Domenici’s remarks came during a conversation with ABC newsman Sam Donaldson, who asked Domenici about the extreme partisanship that has taken over Washington, the debt and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While Domenici talked about the other issues, he often came back to the debt.
For example, asked about the formal end of combat missions in Iraq earlier this week and what the United States accomplished during the war, Domenici talked about the financial cost of the war.
“I wish we never got in it,” he said. “It’s been a terrible expense.”
Domenici, a one-time supporter of the Iraq war who has gradually changed his mind, said Iraq has the potential to become one of the nations in the Middle East working for good.
“Iraq might not be worth it, but it’s done, and it might be worth it,” he said. “We’ve got to hope that.”
Even before his afternoon talk, Domenici took the podium at the end of a separate talk on nuclear weapons and turned his focus toward the debt, saying the problem is so severe “that we’re probably going to have to go on a literal diet… if we’re going to save the country.”
Fixing the problem will require bipartisanship, and when Donaldson pushed Domenici to talk about the divisive climate in Washington, the former senator said it’s currently worse than at any time during his 36 years in the Senate. He had harsh words for the leadership in Washington.
“I also believe that the leaders don’t understand what’s needed to help the members be bipartisan,” he said.
Martinez, Denish, Rove on today’s schedule
The candidates for governor – Republican Susana Martinez and Democrat Diane Denish – will be speaking at the Domenici conference at NMSU today, as will GOP strategist Karl Rove and others. Check the full schedule here. To watch webcasts of the talks, click here.