By Maria Saporta
The country’s central problem today is its debt, according to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia).
Isakson, who spoke Monday at the annual luncheon of the Georgia Council on Economic Education at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said the issue was finally coming to a head over having to raise the nation’s $14.2 trillion debt limit.
“Eventually, you have got to pay the piper,” Isakson said. “We’ve probably got 60 days to deal with the problem of raising the debt limit.”
Isakson, however said that the limit should not be raised without “consequential commitments on behalf of the administration and Congress” to limit the debt through spending cuts and changes in entitlements.
“We have reached the limit of too much leverage,” Isakson said. “We have got to face the tough decision. One of them is Social Security.”
Isakson said that would include raising the retirement age to make sure that Social Security remains solvent. “The system now goes broke in 2037,” Isakson said.
But that’s not all.
“We have got to face Medicare as well,” said Isakson who praised U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to reform Medicare.
Isakson said that Ryan’s plan is being “trashed by many on both sides,” which means it’s probably a good plan because it “puts the consumer back in charge.”
Isakson said Ryan’s plan would make it a private sector system rather than a “centralized government system,” which he said was the wrong way to go. “The private sector is the answer every time,” Isakson said.
When it comes to Medicaid, Isakson said he favored establishing a block-grant system where each state receives an allocation from the federal government and then can determine how to implement it.
Overall, Isakson said that when it comes to trying to lower the nation’s debt: “If you don’t have entitlements on the table, it just can’t be done.”
When it comes to education, Isakson praised U.S. Education Secretary Arnie Duncan. Saying that while he didn’t always agree with President Barack Obama’s cabinet picks, Duncan was “a great guy” in his position.
“The very best (cabinet choices) were Hillary Clinton (as Secretary of State) and Arnie Duncan,” Isakson said. “For the first time in my 13 years in Congress, the administration is calling me every week about education.”
Isakson also said it was “a crime” that Congress has gone four years without renewing the “No Child Left Behind” Act.
“We have basically reached a deal, but because of politics, it has not come up to the committee,” Isakson said. “We need to fix that which is broken (in No Child Left Behind). But there was so much that was good.”
Lastly, Isakson weighed in on Gov. Nathan Deal’s new powers to be able to take action to replace board of education members in public school systems facing the possible loss of accreditation.
“The last thing you need for economic development is schools losing their accreditation,” he said, adding hat he was pleased Clayton County’s public schools probationary status had been lifted. “I hope the Atlanta Public Schools is getting its act together.”