Debt is the threat: An elite group speaks up on the 'fiscal cliff'

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A full-page ad in the New York Times of Wednesday announced the formation of a new organization, the Coalition for Fiscal and National Security, with members including 15 of America's most senior former national security officials, headed by Adm. Michael G. Mullen, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Others of the 15 former officials include three secretaries of defense, four secretaries of state, three national security advisers, three secretaries of the treasury including Pittsburgh's Paul O'Neill, two chairmen of the Federal Reserve and two U.S. senators. Both political parties are amply represented. Names include Frank Carlucci, Sam Nunn, Madeleine K. Albright, Robert M. Gates, Paul Volcker, James A. Baker III, Henry A. Kissinger and George P. Shultz, representing decades of experience at the highest levels.

The main point of the new coalition's message is one that Adm. Mullen began making to governmental, military and business audiences starting in 2010 when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs, that America's debt is the biggest single threat to its national security, surpassing all others.

That point leads into the fundamental point about the United States and the long-term security of its people, that if its economy is not in sound shape, all of the rest -- the large armed forces, the masses of sophisticated weaponry, the various alliances -- count for little. America's strength lies in its strength at home, and its corresponding, dependent ability to mobilize quickly in case of threats.

Proceeding from the fundamental message, the senior leaders make the point in their statement that America's current elected leaders must before the end of the year agree on a plan that both avoids the fiscal cliff and puts the still upwardly spiralling national debt on a downward course.

They acknowledge the challenge of the fiscal cliff but see it also as an opportunity to achieve basic fiscal reform. Kicking the can down the road on the problem, the approach leaders of both parties seem to be easing toward, they see as "not acceptable." The debt must be stabilized, deficits reduced and tax reforms achieved, by eliminating deductions and increasing rates, as necessary. Entitlements must be made long-term sustainable. Changes must be made to what they describe as "defense and other discretionary spending."

This must be achieved, these elders assert, by the Congress and the president, making the tough choices in "the truest form of patriotism -- putting our country first." We haven't seen what needs to be done said better.

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