A National Discussion Our Founding Fathers Would Love

On Saturday, June 26th, AmericaSpeaks, along with partners across the nation, will convene an unprecedented and historic National Town Meeting to find common ground on long-term solutions to address our nation's long-term fiscal challenges.

There is a long and proud history of Americans coming together to discuss and dream of solutions to national challenges, beginning with New England Town Meetings, many of whom date back before the founding of our nation. Town meetings provided a practical, democratic means through which local communities across our young nation came together to govern. Today, over 210 town meetings still meet yearly in Vermont alone.

It is in this patriotic spirit that I'm urging you to help us meet our goal of bringing together thousands of Americans in 19 cities and many more in locally-organized "Community Conversations" across the country. Our dream is for no seat to go unfilled, so that as many Americans as possible across the political spectrum can help chart a sustainable path for fiscal stability.

Given the political climate of the country and the lack of civility that has characterized so much of the public process over the last two years, this is an extraordinary moment to show the country what happens when you create a safe democratic space and ensure that people of every walk of life, background, income, etc. are in the room together committed to making their voices heard.

There are those on both the Right and the Left who would shut down or discredit the national discussion out of fear that putting our country on a fiscally sustainable path will require tax increases (on one side) or cuts to Social Security and Medicare (on the other). And to some extent, they're right: reducing the long-term growth of our publicly held debt (on track to reach 90% of GDP by 2020, according to the CBO) will, in the long term, require some tough choices across the board: either to raise revenues, reduce spending, or some combination of the two. But shutting down discussion and shutting out the American public is not the answer. In fact, this brand of "my way or the highway" partisan politics is exactly why Americans are fed up with business-as-usual in Washington.

Others have raised concerns that the discussion will distract the nation from the important task of recovering from the current economic recession. Our intent is to focus on long-term fiscal challenges that we will face over the coming decades and only consider long-term policy options that would take place after our economy has recovered. Indeed, we must strengthen our economy, but we also need to look ahead and consider the policies that will ensure that we remain on a sustainable path in the future.

AmericaSpeaks has brought together a diverse set of partners and advisors from across the political spectrum including the AARP, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Academy of Social Insurance, the Heritage Foundation, the National Urban League, The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and many more committed to a less cynical and more vibrant American democracy. The Funders of this project and our Advisory Committee reflect all ends of the political spectrum -- these are funders, experts and advocates who disagree on a great deal, but they agree on the need to engage the public. We are working together to convene an open dialogue with true demographic, political, and geographic diversity.

With today's innovations in technology, we can involve many more people in this vigorous debate than the founding fathers could in 1776. This unprecedented National Town Meeting will simultaneously link all the meeting sites and online participants across the United States, all on the same day -- June 26. Participants will learn about the challenges facing our nation, explore the issues and weigh the trade-offs, and deliver to political leaders in Washington a clear message about the shared priorities of a large, demographically representative group of Americans.

Following the national discussions, we will provide Americans with resources to stay involved and let their voices be heard. A report on the results of the meeting will be delivered to Congress and President Obama, as well as the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform and the Bi-Partisan Policy Center's Debt Reduction Task Force. We have been talking with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and they're eager to hear the results.

"In this time of economic uncertainty it's vital that every person's voice is heard, especially those affected most. Many constituents of mine are truly hurting from lost their homes, retirement, and their financial wellbeing. AmericaSpeaks:Our Budget, Our Economy give them a chance to voice their concerns. In order for me to effectively serve my constituents, I need to know their concerns. AmericaSpeaks affords me the opportunity not only to hear from my constituents, but to give them a platform to express themselves."

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, Member of the House Committee on Science and Technology, Senior Democratic Deputy Whip, Chair of the Texas Democratic Delegation

"I applaud AmericaSpeaks' effort to create a national dialogue on the fiscal challenges facing our nation. Many Americans do not realize the magnitude of our long-term fiscal imbalance, so the National Town Meeting is a good way to educate citizens, initiate discussion, and generate ideas about how the United States can get back on the right track. The economic well-being of future generations -- our children and grandchildren -- depends on this generation's willingness to take this issue seriously and find effective solutions."

Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), Ranking Republican Senate Budget Committee, member of President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform

We are inspired already by what we're hearing from those who are organizing local meetings. We know that ordinary Americans are sick of the do-nothing attitude that so often stalls progress in Washington. Thousands of people from a variety of backgrounds have told us in loud choruses that this is important to them. They are excited to participate.

I invite those who question whether the American public can fruitfully discuss and weigh-in on US economic policy to join the National Discussion on June 26th. They can share their views then and add their suggested solutions to those of everyday taxpayers who deserve an equal chance to express their opinions. We know from experience that a lack of civility is not what the vast majority of Americans want. It does not reflect our history and our ability as a country to deal with tough issues. Our profound hope is that this process will create the opportunity for everyone to participate civilly and with an open mind. I hope you'll join us - it would be a waste of American ingenuity and free speech for any seat to go unfilled.

To learn more and join the National Discussion, please visit www.USABudgetDiscussion.org.