Dear Mr. President,
I write this letter of challenge and invitation after listening to you on the Capitol steps Monday.
Challenge, because we face grave economic peril and we cannot act unless our chief executive recognizes and faces it; invitation, because if you and I work together we can chart a path forward, and if we do not the country we both love will be pitched into deep trouble.
We have a budget that is wildly out of balance, and an out-of-control national debt financed by markets and countries whose interests are not aligned with ours. We have made promises we cannot keep and set out on journeys we cannot complete. Step one is to recognize the character and scale of the danger, and step two is to commit to work on it together. As you said in your address, "We cannot afford delay."
The problem your administration has not yet addressed seriously is the need to curb the growth curves of Medicare, Medicaid, and to a lesser degree, Social Security, without hurting our vulnerable populations. Partisan exaggeration and misrepresentation in Washington will not work; local discussion and problem-solving can. I propose that we start with a series of local meetings with hospital administrators, doctors and nurses, health experts, and officials of the state and local governments to discuss ways to curb health costs. Remember, we are talking about restraining future growth in entitlements, not cutting present expenditure levels. Some states are already making progress in that direction and we can learn from them.
There have been dozens of ideas and commission findings on spending cuts. What is missing is determination and cooperation. So join me in a pledge that we will not accept any giveaways or gimmicks, like the costly special deal for drugmaker Amgen that was slipped into the Senate's recent "fiscal cliff" bill at the last minute. All Americans have to understand that they will be asked to accept less than they would like. To do that, everyone will have to know that there are no secret deals for those with platoons of lobbyists.
I ask you to bring the die-hard spenders in your party to the table, and I'll bring the hard-line budget cutters from mine.
We must also look at the cuts we jointly propose through a lens that considers the impact on all three levels of government together -- federal, state and local. Both Congress and the executive branch have been guilty of solving a problem for the federal government by creating bigger problems for state and local government. But all three levels of government are on the same ship, and the sooner we realize that, the better off the passengers on that ship, our citizens, will be.
Finally, we must achieve a budget that is in recurring balance within the next four years. The idea of stretching this over a decade is ludicrous -- an invitation in years ahead to use a future threat or disaster or downturn as an excuse to get out of balance again. A tough three- to four-year plan will command more public confidence and support than a vague 10-year one.
If we embark on this course together, your and my disapproval ratings will probably be sky-high by the time 2016 rolls around. But we will have done what the country desperately needs: We will have avoided decline, chaos, debt and dependence, and made America strong again.
Speaker of the House John Boehner
New York State and former publisher of the International Herald Tribune, headed the climate program at the Environmental Defense Fund.