What I'll do to fix the debt crisis

The biggest domestic challenge facing our nation is our ballooning debt. At more than $18 trillion, it has already reached historic levels. And it's only getting worse.

With the coming retirement of 80 million baby boomers, our debt problem is set to become a debt crisis. In less than 20 years, we will need every penny of projected tax revenues just to pay for major entitlement programs and interest on the debt. In other words, the federal government will run out of money before it pays for a single soldier, border agent, or air traffic controller. Clearly, this problem is a matter of enormous economic and national security importance.

Republican presidential candidate, and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham.
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Republican presidential candidate, and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham.

It is just as clear that unsustainable entitlement spending is the driver of our debt. Programs like Social Security and Medicare, along with interest on the debt, constitute over 70 percent of the federal budget. The majority of the remaining spending goes toward defending our nation and supporting our veterans. Many federal programs are bloated and wasteful, and we must force federal agencies to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars. But the simple fact is that spending cuts alone cannot eliminate our deficit and drive down our debt. The numbers just don't add up. Without changes to our entitlement programs, balanced budgets aren't achievable and will only move further out of reach as the Baby Boomers retire at a rate of 10,000 a day for the next 18 years.

Any presidential candidate who does not commit to fundamental entitlement reform is not serious about fixing our debt and is jeopardizing American prosperity and security.

The challenge of preventing the coming debt crisis and ensuring the long-term viability of our safety net is not just an abstract concept for me. While I was still in college, I lost both my parents. My mother passed away after a fight with cancer, and her medical bills wiped us out. I helped raise my 13 year-old sister with the help of my aunt and uncle, and we depended on Social Security survivor benefits to get by. I know from experience how important it is to preserve our safety net so that those in need can continue to rely on it. However, these essential programs are currently on the road to bankruptcy. Social Security and Medicare will become insolvent by the end of the next decade. Disability Insurance will reach insolvency by 2017. Our major entitlement programs have unfunded liabilities of more than $75 trillion, an almost unfathomably large number that dwarfs our entire economy and our current debt.

I have a comprehensive plan to address this growing problem head on. First, I will make common-sense changes to our entitlement programs. This includes raising the retirement age for future retirees because we are living longer and asking wealthy retirees to give up some money in benefits. Second, I will implement pro-work reforms, like eliminating the payroll tax for those who reach the early retirement age and expanding rehabilitation and work opportunities for those on disability.

Next, I will dramatically reform our tax code by capping both individual and corporate deductions in order to lower rates and bring our budget into balance. Any new revenues would have to be paired with spending cuts in a 3:1 ratio of cuts to revenues. This is will help to make our tax system flatter and fairer while bringing our rates down to a globally competitive level and encouraging Democrats to come to the table and commit to meaningful reforms. Only by taking a comprehensive, bipartisan approach can we balance our budget, grow our economy, save vital entitlement programs, and rein in federal spending.

Under the status quo, we face crippling debt and bankrupt entitlement programs. Those who oppose entitlement reform only hasten the demise of our safety net. Those who say we can cut or tax our way out of the problem are promising something they simply cannot deliver. As president, I won't pretend to offer easy solutions to tough problems. My pledge to the American people is a comprehensive plan that will succeed in putting us on a new path to prosperity

Commentary by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who has been serving as a senator from South Carolina since 2003. Graham is currently running for president of the United States. Follow him on Twitter @LindseyGrahamSC.