Dealing With the Deficit Will Require Sacrifice

Patriotism requires sacrifice, and we will all pay a price to put our economy back on track.

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The yakkers of left and right have lost no time in condemning the draft proposals of the Simpson-Bowles commission. Grover Norquist has promised to lead conservatives on a holy war against any Republican who supports the necessary tax hikes in the bill. Keith Olbermann and guests spent much of his show last night blasting the report as a giveaway to big business and a devastating attack on government subsidies for the middle class.

[Read more about the economy.]

On this Veteran's Day, I'm wondering what Marine Cpl. Todd Nicely would want us to do.

In a moving, and never maudlin, front page story in the Washington Post today, reporter Michael Ruane tells the tale of Nicely, one of three American military men who survived attacks in Iraq or Afghanistan, but now face life as quadruple amputees. Nicely and his squad were on patrol, and he took the lead as he and his men crossed a mined bridge over a canal in southern Afghanistan. He was butchered and eviscerated by an explosion.

Ruane recounts how Nicely's wife Crystal, a former Marine herself, broke the news to him as he regained consciousness in the hospital.

“Do you want to know what's wrong?” she asked. He said he did.

“Well, baby, you know you're missing your legs?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “I know.”

“Did you know you're missing both hands,” she asked, crying.

“No,” he said.

He was quiet for a minute, then asked, “Did anybody else get hurt?”

She said no.

“Good,” he said.

Confronted by awful loss, Nicely's first reaction was to ask about his fellow Marines.

I don't know what Nicely's politics are. I can't imagine, with all that is going on in his life, that he is worried much about Norquist or Olbermann. But I'm guessing he wants the rest of us to act like he acts: with courage and compassion, to try and keep our country great, so that his sacrifice, and that of Crystal and their fellow Marines and soldiers, isn't frittered away.

A great choice confronts us. The time for education is past. We all know the size of the financial hole that we have dug for ourselves. Now, with a Democratic president and a Republican speaker and an ideologically balanced Senate, there is an opportunity for a bipartisan deal that would reduce debt, save Social Security and healthcare reform, cap taxes and spending at 21 percent of GDP, make the tax code flatter and fairer, and limit our reliance on foreign oil. The details are not as important, right now, as the momentum. If we don't seize this opportunity, we won't get another for at least two more years, after another costly and divisive round of partisan finger-pointing. Folks, we cannot let Washington declare this proposal Dead On Arrival.

[Read more about the deficit and national debt.]

I don't blame Norquist and Olbermann, or Sarah Palin or Nancy Pelosi, or Fox or MSNBC. In our system, some folks have the job to stake out positions on the wings, and to educate or move the rest of us. They all have donors or stockholders or viewers or constituents to consider. That is our democratic system.

[See where Pelosi gets her campaign money.]

But our system also relies, fundamentally, on sound-minded citizens making good choices. And we do not have to look back to the Founding Fathers for inspiration. We have done this before--in our lifetime. Thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill went at each other, hammer and tongs, in a fierce partisan battle. And then they sat down and negotiated a series of deals very much like those proposed by Al Simpson and Erskine Bowles, to preserve the safety net and make the tax code fairer and spur the creation of jobs. Fifteen years ago, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich fought it out, and then sat down and negotiated deals that reformed welfare and gave us a balanced budget.

[ Read the U.S. News debate: Should a balanced budget be a top priority?]

Patriotism requires sacrifice. We will all pay a price to put our economy back on track, and restore the dream for our kids and grandkids.

It is going to take a big, loud, tough, ugly fight. And considerable sacrifice. But rely on this in the days ahead. None of us will have to sacrifice like Marine Cpl. Todd Nicely. We owe it to him, and others like him, to not let the yakkers kill this reform in the crib.