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A Nation in Debt: How Can We Pay the Bills? (2022)

23 pages
National Issues Forums Institute

Our nation's debt has never been larger, and it has the potential to affect not only each of us, but future generations. This issue guide is designed to support people deliberating together about how we should approach the issue. There is no perfect solution, but by considering three different approaches to dealing with the debt, we can try to understand the viewpoints of others and reflect on what is most important to us. Each option sees the debt from a different perspective, and not all options address reducing the national debt equally.

There are difficult questions we need to think about—questions without easy answers:

-Should all of us have to tighten our belts, or should we ask more from larger corporations or wealthier citizens?

-Should we take drastic action to shrink the debt, or would that upend the economy?

-What's the right direction for tax rates to go—up, to cover our spending, or down, to encourage investment and growth that might expand the economy?

-Are we willing to live with a much smaller federal government—and if so, what benefits and services are we willing to live without?

Some of the worst problems with the debt lie in the future, so it's easy to procrastinate. But the effects are becoming visible now. By 2030, given current trends, we'll spend more on interest on the national debt than on the Department of Defense.

The research involved in developing this guide included conversations with Americans from various backgrounds, surveys of nonpartisan public opinion research, consideration of many people's ideas and thoughts on the best solutions, and reviews by people who know this topic well.

Author Bio
Sutton Stokes is the associate director of the West Virginia Center for Civic Life, a nonpartisan organization that helps people talk and work together on public issues. From 2012 until 2016, he was city clerk of Elkins, West Virginia. He has worked as a freelance writer, communications consultant, and outdoor educator. He earned a B.A. in American Studies from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in 2002, where his studies also included elementary education. Tony Wharton is a former newspaper reporter who has written about public policy issues and deliberation for more than 20 years. He was the editor of “Journalism as a Democratic Art: Selected Essays by Cole C. Campbell,” a 2012 publication of Kettering Foundation Press. He and his family live in Richmond, Virginia.Brad Rourke is a program officer at the Kettering Foundation and executive editor of issue guides. His work includes studies of naming and framing issues in public terms and of how people make decisions and work together on shared challenges in communities.

In addition to serving as executive editor of issue guides since 2010, Rourke has written and cowritten a number of Kettering reports and articles, including Developing Materials for Deliberative Forums. His essays and op-ed pieces have appeared in publications such as the Washington Post and the Christian Science Monitor. He contributed achapter on the ethics of citizenship to the book Shades of Gray (Brookings Institution, 2002).

Rourke has been a Kettering program officer since 2013 and was an associate since 2005. Prior to joining the foundation, Rourke was president of a public issues firm serving the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors, founder and publisher of local online news source Rockville Central, director of external initiatives at The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, and vice president for public policy at the Institute for Global Ethics. He has served on the staffs of then-controller of California Gray Davis and then-US representative Jane Harman.

Rourke received a BA in comparative literature from UC Berkeley and an MPA from American University.