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FEULNER: Saving the American dream

Our future depends on reining in our national debt - now

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It's an era of competing budget plans on Capitol Hill. And with good reason: We've come to a time for decision.

For too long, Congress has been on an unsustainable binge of spending, taxing and borrowing. Our nation is going broke, and we're passing the costs of these misguided policies to our children and their children.

Our national government has become bloated, overextended and unrestrained. It's become oblivious of its core functions, operating far beyond its means and vastly outside of its proper constitutional bounds. Unchecked, the course it's on will cripple our economy, undermine our prosperity and lead to fiscal insolvency.

Already, we're living through the shame of being publicly lectured by our creditors in China. The day it was announced that Standard & Poor's had lowered the outlook on our economy, a collective gasp went through the international community. If our elected leaders keep it up, we're certain to face financial crises like those faced by Greece and Portugal.

America is on the verge of becoming a country in decline - economically stagnant and permanently debt-bound, heavily regulated and bureaucratic, less self-governing and less free.

But this does not have to be our fate. We can get spending under control, balance the budget and shrink our debt. We can limit the size of government and set free once again the unlimited genius of Americans to create wealth and jobs. We can turn the tide and change our nation's course.

To get our fiscal house in order, we must address Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the three so-called "entitlement" programs that together account for 43 percent of federal spending. Yet the federal "safety net" for seniors still lets far too many seniors sink into poverty. We must recast these programs so they're affordable and do a better job of helping those in need.

We also need to encourage Americans to become more fiscally responsible themselves. We can do this by redesigning our tax system into an expenditure tax with a single flat rate. This structure would promote savings, therefore benefiting individual Americans, our body politic and the economy. Greater savings mean stronger capital formation and thus a more robust economy, which means real jobs for Americans.

We have to reduce substantially the size and scope of the federal government, fundamentally increase the role of the states in choosing their own practices, and bring decision-making closer to the people, not to unelected administrators. These steps are crucial to getting our nation on a path of fiscal, political and constitutional responsibility.

That's why the Heritage Foundation recently released "Saving the American Dream," a budget plan designed to achieve precisely the goals outlined here. Our proposal aims to preserve America's promise bequeathed to us by past generations.

Heritage's plan may be economic in nature, but it has a higher moral purpose. If entitlements are not reformed, future generations will be saddled with taxes so high, they will end liberty as we know it.

Edmund Burke reminds us to think of our time on this earth not as an individual and temporary event, but rather as a partnership "between those who are living, those who are dead and those who are yet to be born."

We've been here before, and every time, the American people have risen to the occasion and seized the moment. In 1776, we were told that no upstart colonists could defeat the strongest nation in the world. In 1860, we were told the union could not hold and that America was over. In 1980, we were told that the American century was at an end. Each time, we rose to the challenge - and conquered.

Hard times demand clear thinking, smart decisions, tough choices - and action. The future of our nation is at stake.

Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

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