Vermont petition picked up by national debt reduction campaign

Image from Fix the Debt website.

At a 2012 Memorial Day barbeque in Stowe, a handful of Vermonters and their friends began a political argument that in just a few weeks turned into a national petition calling for a nonpartisan approach to reducing the nation’s $16 trillion debt. The petition has almost 139,000 signatories to date.

Biddle Duke and Rob Foregger, two Stowe residents who started the petition, describe themselves as “accidental activists.” They view America’s total national debt as the most important issue in politics because touches “everyone and everything in America.”

“We got together on my porch, talked in terms of keeping it real, and asked: What could a small group of friends do that’s scaleable?” recounted Foregger, a businessman who founded the online bank Everbank.

The six friends, who are conservatives, libertarians and Democrats, drew up a citizens’ petition on change.org, a popular petition portal. They called for an approach based broadly on the failed Simpson-Bowles commission, which sought in 2010 to reduce the nation’s debt by both raising revenues and reducing spending.

Through group member Steve Silverman, a former deputy cabinet secretary for Bill Clinton, they managed to meet with former commission chair Erskine Bowles himself, who championed their idea. Bowles and other senior Washington politically connected types launched the national Fix the Debt Campaign in August 2012, adopting the Vermont petition word-for-word as their official petition.

To date the document has almost 139,000 online signatures– more than 92,000 people signed it the first week. Duke and Foregger said they hope to receive millions of signatures by mid-2013.

The petition comes at a time when members of Congress remain engaged in a bitter partisan battle over plans for cutting $1.2 trillion from the national budget. Because Republicans and Democrats couldn’t agree on cuts to the defense budget and social programs in 2011 they put a debt ceiling in place. The deal, according to The Hill, set automatic spending cuts as a penalty for a failure to agree on a plan. Under the Sequestration Transparency Act, about $109 billion in pre-determined reductions will be made this January, according to Politico. The Defense budget will absorb a disproportionate percentage of the reductions, while Social Security and Medicare will be protected. The Bush era tax cuts expire at the same time. Economists say the so-called “fiscal cliff” could throw the nation into another recession.

The national petition campaign aims to put pressure on elected officials to compromise sensibly on debt issues, said Ed Lorenzen, an adviser to the campaign. Lorenzen formerly worked on the staff of the Simpson-Bowles commission, and he said the “tough medicine” that the group prescribed might have alienated many people.

“The special interests opposed to any particular debt reduction can be loud,” said Lorenzen, who attributed failures to tackle the debt to a lack of political will. “We’re trying to give voice to the broader public interest.”

Vermont Congressman Peter Welch praised the importance of the petition’s bipartisan approach. It’s another indication, he said, “of Vermont activism ahead of the curve.” Welch has worked on bipartisan debt reduction efforts in the House.

Fix the Debt campaign volunteers attended both the RNC and the DNC conventions, and Democrats and Republicans showed equal interest, according to Lorenzen.

Lorenzen wouldn’t comment on Republican VP nominee Paul Ryan’s controversial federal budget plans, citing the nonpartisan nature of the campaign. Welch, though, placed blame squarely on Ryan for “killing” the Simpson-Bowles commission plan with his no vote, and said Ryan seemed more interested in “partisan political games” than debt reduction.

“Vermont has never been afraid to make a local statement that has national impact,” Duke said. “This whole idea, the genesis of it, was in the heart of the Green Mountains.” Foregger said Yankee common-sense and fiscal prudence were two other Vermont values ingrained in the movement.

The three other petition founders include: Craig DeLuca and Bob Anderson, two Stowe residents and businessmen, alongside Jim Del Favero, a software and personal finance executive from Silicon Valley.

Sources emphasized that no single factor is the main driver of the debt. They cited military spending on two wars, increased health care and government assistance costs, and low tax revenues due to the economic recession.

The original December 2010 Simpson-Bowles’ commission report is here, while information on the current federal debt can be found at the U.S. Treasury website. The public holds a debt of almost $11.3 trillion.

Correction: The barbeque mentioned in the first paragraph was held on Memorial Day in 2012, not on July 4 as originally written. 

Nat Rudarakanchana

Comments

  1. Mike Kerin :

    You can’t reduce the national debt and have WARS going on and reduce taxes on the wealthy. Those who say we need to stop spending on Social Security and Medicare and that will cut the debt are dreaming.
    We need to go back to the tax rates of the Clinton years. We need to return all our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. Set them up along the leaky southern border and use them to defend our country from the drug cartels.
    The budget will balance with no WARS and the deficit will start to shrink with the old tax rates in place. Probably should also raise the tax rates on unearned income like capitol gains, too.

  2. Josh Fitzhugh :

    What killed Simpson Bowles was the failure of our President to support it.

    • David Bell :

      Nope.

      Republicans made it clear they would see every poor person in this country starve to death before they would agree to on penny in tax increases.

      Yet Simpson Bowles does just that.

      You can’t negotiate with terrorists.

  3. Bruce Post :

    Josh, Paul Ryan, who was on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, helped kill a commission-endorsed official plan. Bowles and Simpson (“BS”) then issued their own report in lieu of the official plan.

    Having had a front-row seat at the hurried attempt to ram through Reaganomics in 1981, I know the chicanery that is a feature of the federal budgetary Kabuki. I imagine that, in the post-election period, a similar attempt will be made to hasten the passage of some “BS” variant in order to avoid falling over the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

    Somehow, I don’t think this will end well, and the resulting plan will, on balance, comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted.

  4. Sharon Toborg :

    One of the first things we need to do is to end the Washington-speak that allows people to claim a budget has been cut when it hasn’t. If the government plans to spend an extra trillion next year, but only increases spending by $600 billion, they claim the budget has been cut by $400 billion, which is just nonsense. The budget has gone up. Here in Vermont, we hear all the time how our Legislature has had to make significant budget cuts in recent years – yet spending goes up every year. How can our financial problems be solved when they aren’t even discussed in a realistic way?

  5. Ronald Pulcer :

    Good luck with petition. Although I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of a bi-partisan approach, I think we should separate the problem of Federal Debt between the Federal Budget and the Social Insurance programs (Social Security, Medicare).

    The Federal Budget is financed mainly via personal, business, corporate income taxes.

    The Social Security and Medicare systems are funded mainly via payroll taxes.

    The Federal Budget Debt, versus the current status of Social Security + Medicare are essentially like two different “bank accounts”.

    Therefore, to the extent that Congress has “borrowed” from Social Security to prop up the Federal Budget, and has not yet paid it all back the Social Security Fund, that IMHO is a problem with Congress and not necessarily a problem with Social Security!

    If during the working lives of the Baby Boomers (I am in the 2nd-half of that generation), the Baby Boomers paid in more than what was withdrawn for Social Security alone for the prior generation (with a relatively smaller population), then it would seem it should have resulted in a Social Security “surplus” over the last 30+ years.

    Over the years, Congress has borrowed from accumulating Social Security “surplus”, and now does not really want to pay back OUR money to SS Fund.

    It seems like Wall Street ripped off our 401Ks (with Congressional Blessing), and now Congress wants to do another money grab of our Social Security Fund.

    Think about this: Why would President George W. Bush “care” about Social Security during wartime (2 Wars)? Perhaps, Dubya and Congress knew they were creating debt “off the books”, and saw Social Security as a way to plug the debt hole they created.

    Every current and former member of Congress (including Simpson and Bowles), every former President and VP, should be BAIN’d. That’s right, take away their Federal PENSION, Healthcare insurance that We The Taxpayers are paying. While we are at it, BAIN ‘em on any Secret Service expense that is being paid for by the Taxpayers. These politicians can afford to pay their own healthcare, retirement and SS protection.

    As a C-SPAN viewer, I say the only “real” fiscal-conservatives on the Republican side are Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Ron Paul. Rep. Flake (lesser known than Paul) voted against the “Bridge to Nowhere”, and got flack from Speaker Tom Delay, et al. Rep. Flake voted against Medicare Part D fiasco, which Rep. Paul Ryan voted FOR, adding to the federal debt. Rep. Nick Smith of Michigan also voted against Medicare Part D and resisted Tom Delay arm-twisting, but he has since retired from Congress.

    The only thing worse (much worse) than a tax-and-spend Democrat is a lying-fake-fiscal-conservative like Rep. Paul Ryan.

    If more Republicans in Congress were like Rep. Jeff Flake, they wouldn’t be the laughing-stock they are now.

  6. Gary Murphy :

    We cannot get rid of the national debt as long as we have a debt based monetary system. The treasury prints money, hands it over to the privately owned Federal Reserve system and then has to borrow money back and pay interest on it. This is insane. The Constitution vests the power to coin money and set the value thereof with congress. It is time for congress to take that power back.

  7. NICOLE LEBLANC :

    We need a trillion dollar tax hike and we also need to Cut 3.8 trillion in War, Defense, Military , Homeland Security and earmarks and Congressional pay perks. Lets also cut nursing home funding by 50% and cut/eliminate all institutions.

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