Op - Ed: Town hall meetings show Alaskans get it

Last week, I traveled our state and engaged with Alaskans in one of the most important conversations facing our nation: the state of our economy. I'd like to thank everyone who attended one of our town hall meetings.

My biggest takeaway from last week? Alaskans get it. They see what's happening and know federal spending is on an unsustainable trajectory, as the nation continues to dig itself deeper into a debt approaching 15 trillion dollars. That's 1,500 billion dollars -- tough to visualize but impossible to ignore.

You can see our collective crisis of confidence reflected in those gloomy unemployment numbers and slow economic growth -- people are reluctant to spend. Meantime, the financial markets have clearly indicated that the clock is running down. The debt ceiling debates of this summer and the resulting downgrade of our long-term credit further damage consumer confidence, and could raise our mortgages, car payments and student loans.

Alaskans recognize many of the policy changes we need to make aren't going to be popular or easy, but they do expect us to work across the ideological divide and stop playing the blame game. Difficult situations require working with pragmatism and resolve.

Back in Washington, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction -- the "Super Committee" is charged with achieving $1.5 trillion in deficit reductions over the next decade. Hitting that target would be a step in the right direction, but much more will be needed to address our debt. We cannot cut ourselves out of this problem just as we cannot tax our way out of this problem. To close our budget gap and begin paying down our nation's debt, we need long-term, structural reform. We need a combination of spending cuts, mandatory spending adjustments, changes in the federal budget process and an overhaul of our tax code. According to the bipartisan Simpson/Bowles Commission, "by 2025, federal revenues will only be enough to pay for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest on our debt."

This is where it hits home for Alaskans. If all our funding is being spent on mandatory programs, and interests, that squeezes discretionary dollars. One-third of our state's budget comes from that category. That's our uniformed and civilian military personnel, who already received bad news this week at JBER and Eielson. That's our federal presence, with 64 percent of our state owned by the government. Given this oversized role the federal government plays in our economy, it's in our best interests to advocate for tough choices now -- before Alaska bears a burden beyond our fair share.

How? First, we must fundamentally rethink the federal budgeting process. Some approaches I'm recommending are biennial budgeting to provide for greater spending oversight, a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution tied to GDP and annual spending caps linked to the ebb and flow of our economy. Enforcing this common-sense budget discipline will send a stabilizing message to the financial markets and restore investor confidence.

Next? Tax reform and regulatory relief are essential. We haven't had comprehensive tax reform since before the Berlin Wall fell, and our complex tax code drags our economy down. Alaskans want equity, simplicity and efficiency. I agree. We'll have to look critically at all expenditures, deductions and credits. Raising taxes on the wealthy won't do a lot if loopholes in the tax code allow a CEO to pay less in taxes than a secretary.

I'm hearing a consensus from Alaska's business community about government red tape: Cut through it. Federal permitting and regulations are inhibiting investment, consuming a larger share of business overhead and hampering Alaska's ability to be part of the overall solution. Beyond that, Alaska literally has money buried in the ground. Let's unleash the potential in ANWR, NPR-A and offshore -- to create jobs, revenues and help fund innovation.

While Alaskans express different ideas and approaches to resolving our nation's fiscal crisis, I did hear a recurring theme: Alaskans want Congress to come together for the good of the country and "fix it." We are obligated to do just that.