Every American should be aware that our nation is facing a catastrophic fiscal crisis. It is more evident than ever that our long-term federal budget is in a perilous state due to unsustainable entitlement spending and a dramatic rise in the national debt. Don't be mistaken -- our fiscal problems will not right themselves with time. Continually ignoring our spending patterns will bring inflation, higher interest rates and a dramatic increase in the cost of capital.
We need to be reminded of the fiscal realities in which we find ourselves. We cannot continue to live in the United States of denial.
As the Senate's leading "debt hawk," I have been calling for fiscal responsibility since the beginning of my career in public service. When I became governor of Ohio in 1991, I took over a bleeding red budget and brought it back into the black -- just like I did as mayor of Cleveland. By curbing state spending and balancing the budget, I led reforms of the state government that held budgetary growth to its lowest rate in 30 years, an unprecedented accomplishment in an era when increased budgets were the status quo.
My top priorities as a public servant have always been to improve the lives of Ohioans and practice fiscal responsibility. And today, those priorities remain steadfast. I refuse to sit idly by as some of my colleagues attempt to save the present by mortgaging our future.
When I came to the U.S. Senate in 1999, the gross federal debt stood at $5.6 trillion, or 61 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Obama Administration recently projected that the national debt will be $12.7 trillion by the end of 2009 -- growing more than twice as fast as the growth in GDP during the same 10-year period.
Today, each American's share of the national debt is $42,000, up from $20,500 in 1999. If we keep going in this direction, the debt will double in 5 years and triple in 10.
Alarmingly, these figures don't even count our accumulated, long-term financial obligations, which grew by $2.1 trillion last year as a result of the increase in the costs of Medicare and Social Security benefits as the baby boomer generation retires.
We have to start finding ways to work harder and smarter and do more with less. It doesn't take an economist to realize that our course is unsustainable. I know it, the Obama Administration knows it, my colleagues in the Senate know it, and the American people know it.
The rest of the world is watching and we face an economic train wreck if we continue to ignore our complex tax code and our enormous entitlement programs. That is why Senator Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) and I recently introduced the Securing America's Future Economy (SAFE) Commission Act, landmark legislation aimed at comprehensive reform of our nation's tax and entitlement systems.
The SAFE Commission will form a commission bringing together the best minds associated with budget and economic policies to examine the long-term fiscal challenges facing the United States and recommend reforms. Long-overdue passage of this legislation would encourage members from both sides of the aisle to sit down together in a productive venue to solve our difficult fiscal problems. Modeled after the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) process, Congress would be required to vote up or down on the SAFE Commission's recommendations.
The SAFE Commission has broad bipartisan support outside of Congress, including: the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Business Roundtable, the Concord Coalition, the National Federation of Independent Business, Brookings Institution, Heritage Foundation and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget all back the idea. The time to act is now -- and the SAFE Act is the most comprehensive way to start.
I hope to regularly provide Ohioans with alerts on our growing national debt, and assure them that I continue to call for Congress to address these critical issues. Leaving major fiscal problems for future generations will only result in greater debt, substantially increased taxes, and the potential insolvency of critical social insurance programs. At this point in our nation's history, we cannot wait any longer to address our fiscal crisis. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to take care of this problem now, or they will never forgive us.