Time to tame our debt

To ensure a bright future, be fiscally responsible in the present

Our page avoids self- aggrandizement, but occasionally we like to admire the prescience of our predecessors.

Amid all the anger over our national debt spiking upward of $14 trillion, we came across an Augusta Chronicle editorial dated April 5, 1961. It was about a time capsule, sealed that previous April 3, placed in what was then the new Bank of Georgia building in Atlanta.

Then-U.S. Rep. James C. Davis wrote a letter to be sealed inside the capsule and read by the citizens of the future, in which he mentioned "that in 1961 the national debt was $290 billion and the annual interest rate on that debt approximately $9 billion," The Chronicle wrote in 1961.

"The way things are going," our editorial page continued, "our own counterparts -- the taxpayers -- in 2011 A.D. will refer to that 'small' debt as something that existed in the 'good ol' days.'"

Too right. If only we could trim the debt to $290 billion, that would be considered a roaring fiscal success.

As for the interest on our debt, The Examiner in Washington, D.C., reported this grim scenario in 2009: "Servicing the nation's staggering national debt down the road will cost more than the current annual Pentagon budget -- including funding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By 2019, the federal government will pay more than $700 billion a year on its debt load."

The 1961 time capsule was scheduled to be opened this year, but we haven't heard if it has been opened, or even if the current proprietors of the old bank building even know where the capsule might be.

But if we sank a time capsule today, for the people of 2061, what letter might we write to them?

A letter of apology, perhaps? Or maybe a greeting card that reads, "Sorry we recklessly bankrupted our future."

The laws of physics can't permit us to travel back in time to change the past. But the laws of common sense can change our future if we navigate through our present using fiscal sanity. And that means serious, deep budget cuts and more equitable, less oppressive taxes.

Keep renewing your subscription to The Chronicle so you can see this editorial updated by our successors in 2061 -- hopefully with a brighter outlook.

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