Members of the local community joined students in Fox Hall to learn about and discuss the national debt April 2.
Panelists Robert Bixby, Paul Stebbins, Paul Hernandez and Jim Davis represented Fix the Debt, a growing movement billed as “a nonpartisan organization” pushing for action between policymakers and economic professionals. After presenting their own points of view, the panelists took questions from the audience.
Bixby directs the Concord Coalition, an organization dedicated to responsible financial behavior. He opened the discussion with a comprehensive PowerPoint illustrating the statistical facts of the current financial crisis.
Bixby’s primary focus is sustainability. The country’s current track, he contended, is not financially sustainable even if we do witness improvements in the short term. He emphasized the impact of three major components from the 2012 federal budget: “entitlement programs” such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; military and defense spending; and interest paying off the national debt.
Bixby confidently asserted that while the United States is currently paying $200 billion on interest alone, it has been projected to potentially rise as high as $800 – 900 billion in the future.
The second speaker, Stebbins, took over for Bixby with the resounding message of the national Fix the Debt movement: now is the time for action. “If I were as young as you, I’d be pretty ticked off at us.”
Stebbins chairs the board of World Fuel Services Corporation. He criticized the “toxic” and “dysfunctional” polarity in the American political atmosphere, and stressed that the lack of civil discourse lies at the root of the nation’s economic distress. Business, Stebbins argued, ought to be conducted by “pragmatists, not ideologists.” According to Stebbins, Fix the Debt aims above all else to coax the public out of the paralysis that has brought progress to a standstill.
“This is not about partisanship,” he said. “This is about citizenship.”
Councilman Paul B. Hernandez took Stebbins’ call to action one step further by speaking directly to the student body of Eckerd College. Hernandez insisted that educated youth and pre-professionals are an untapped demographic that ought to be pushing dialogue outside of partisan boundaries.
A young but successful member of his local government and a part of that “untapped demographic” himself, Hernandez explained that we are the primary stakeholders in the current crisis.
The councilman urged students to involve themselves with local government. “Ask your state and city officials: How has [the debt crisis] affected them?” he said.
The fourth panelist, Jim Davis, represented various Floridian cities in the House of Representatives for a decade up until 2007. He pointed to national investments that were being “choked out” of the federal budget including medical research, student grants, and infrastructure. He concluded the presentations with the final mission of Fix the Debt: “our problem” is a shared problem that requires shared sacrifice and collective action.
The concluding Q&A session kicked off with the question shared by everybody in the audience: “Where are we going to go from here?”
Paul Stebbins echoed the call for collective choices to be made on behalf of – and with the help of – all voting demographics.
“The youth was left out of it,” Stebbins said. He suggested that the prevalence of information in digital media is paving the way for a new, more open-minded national sentiment for the next generation.
“If Twitter can start a revolution in Egypt, just think what we can do here,” Stebbins added.
Councilman Hernandez was quick to voice his agreement.
“That could change the conversation,” he said.