Nightline Line-Up

When three Republican senators and three Democratic senators sit down together and agree to join forces, that makes news. But when they sat down together on "Nightline" last month, they made something even more unusual--they made sense. The six distinguished senators issued a historic challenge to this year's presidential candidates. They invited them to a fair and open debate on the budget. The facts are devastating: This year, America's national debt reached 4 trillion dollars. That means next year, for the first time in American history, the interest we pay on the debt will be the largest single item in the federal budget. To give you some idea what that means, all the personal income taxes collected from all the taxpayers living west of the Mississippi don't even cover the interest payment. Every child born in this country inherits $16,000 in debt. Yesterday's parents borrowed for their children. Today's parents are borrowing from their children. Solutions to this gargantuan debt don't come easy. It's not enough to get rid of waste and fraud. Cutting pork barrel projects would make a dent, but only a dent. The really big money-guzzlers are defense and what are called entitlement programs--outlays to individuals in the form of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Today defense spending is being cut drastically, so that leaves only one category to cut: entitlements. The choice facing America is simple: cut entitlements or else raise taxes. But that's a choice no politician wants to face, because neither option is attractive to voters. People want government services--but they don't want to pay higher taxes to get them. The six senators appearing together on Nightline ended the program with an unprecedented challenge to the presidential candidates: Get out from behind the sound bites and the 30-second commercials, they said, and hold a real debate over the budget. Let's question each candidate for one hour on this topic alone--what programs they would cut or what taxes they would raise. So far only one candidate, Governor Clinton. The President and Ross Perot ought to be hounded in the press until they agree as well. But the budget raises a deeper question. There seem to be few men and women in public life with the courage to tell the truth about the deficit--because they know there are few voters who want to hear the truth. It reminds me of a young family where the parents don't know how to tell the kids, "No, we can't afford the fancy toys advertised on TV." And so they sink deeper and deeper into debt while giving their children a false sense of wealth and well-being. There's a failure of character and will on both sides of the political divide--both the leaders and the people. Sometime, someone will have to stand up and say, "No, we can't afford it any more"--and you and I will have to have the courage to agree. Dare we hope that this campaign will be the time? Dare we wait any longer?


Chuck Colson


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