BANGOR, Maine — If U.S. lawmakers don’t find solutions that will reduce the national debt and prevent the looming sequestration, they will be “leaving a crushing burden for future generations,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Tuesday.
“Our national debt now stands at an almost incomprehensible $16.4 trillion,” Collins said during her annual speech to the Bangor Rotary Club, of which she is an honorary member. “The tab for every man, woman and child tops $52,000, and is our legacy for future generations.”
That debt also saddles the United States with significant interest payments — paying $223 billion in 2012.
“It is estimated that in just a few years, our interest payments to China … will be covering the entire cost of that communist country’s military,” Collins said.
The Republican senator said swift, bipartisan reforms need to be made to avoid sequestration — the $85 billion in automatic, across-the-board cuts that will come on March 1 if Congress doesn’t come up with a different solution.
Collins said the far-from-perfect “fiscal cliff” agreement reached earlier this year gave some certainty to taxpayers and business owners, freeing them to plan and invest, but that it was only a band-aid for the nation’s larger fiscal problems.
“Congress continues to lurch from impasse to crisis to short-term fix and then repeat the cycle all over again,” said Collins, a member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations.
Collins offered a number of potential debt-reduction solutions, including improved management and the “application of common sense,” which she said would save billions. For example, in 2012, federal agencies paid $108 billion to “the wrong person, for the wrong amount, or for the wrong reason,” Collins said. Federal checks totaling more than $180 million were sent to about 20,000 deceased people.
The third-term senator spoke about the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Commission’s recommendations, which included options such as increasing contributions paid by wealthy Medicare beneficiaries and liability reforms to reduce the costs of defensive medicine.
“These recommendations may not be the answer, but surely they deserve serious consideration,” Collins said.
She also criticized federal “wasteful duplication,” citing the “ironic” fact that there are 56 programs in 20 federal agencies geared toward trying to improve the financial literacy of Americans.
“The American people can teach the government a thing or two about financial literacy: Pay for something once, not dozens of times,” Collins said.
“I’ve been disappointed that the president hasn’t taken more of a leadership role in this area,” Collins said before delivering the speech. “Now that he has been re-elected, his legacy depends on addressing this very serious problem; and he has the credibility to do so, having just been re-elected.”
Former Maine Gov. John Baldacci visited Hermon in mid-January and, like Collins, urged lawmakers to collaborate and cooperate to put America on a solid fiscal path before the nation’s $16 trillion debt gets further out of hand. Baldacci is co-chairing Maine’s Fix the Debt campaign with a former political adversary, Rick Bennett.
Collins said she’s aware of the Fix the Debt campaign, but that she was not part of that effort and has not coordinated with the campaign.
“I commend them for their efforts to heighten public awareness,” Collins said.