I am constantly amazed by what small businesses are able to accomplish. As president of The Fierro Group, a small business based in Salt Lake specializing in the distribution of Rico Brand Mexican foods, I am fully aware that often times we are not afforded the same resources as many of the country's larger businesses. But what we lack in assets is more than made up for in dedication and ingenuity. However, small business owners are only human and still need economic certainty to operate effectively.
So, I am alarmed by the fact that the national debt may be robbing small businesses of that certainty. We must recognize the fact that this debt poses a serious threat to small businesses both here in Utah and across the country. It's time our elected leaders took responsibility and began taking real action toward meaningful debt reduction so that businesses both large and small are able to operate with confidence for years to come.
I will be closely watching the State of the Union on Tuesday night. However, what's really important to me is the state of the debt — as in, I hope the president will directly address the national debt, the single largest threat to continued growth. Unless our leaders in Washington address the issue now, our fiscal problems will continue and become even harder to correct.
Our nation's near- and long-term fiscal challenges present serious obstacles to sustained growth. The fact that our government has made a habit out of stumbling from one self-imposed crisis to the next compromises businesses' ability to invest and hire. It's essential to have economic stability and policy certainty, and right now, our leaders are doing nothing to promote those things.
In the next couple months, Washington will face a series of self-manufactured crises — the "sequestration" spending cuts, the debt ceiling and the expiration of the laws that keep the government operating on a day-to-day basis. Those spending cuts alone — the leftover part of the New Year's Day deal to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff" — could cost Utah up to 16,000 jobs if they go into effect as scheduled in March.
If nothing is changed to slow the growth in spending or to raise more money to pay for our obligations, we're looking at annual interest payments that squeeze the budget for programs that benefit the middle class. Eventually, our debt will cause interest rates, inflation rates and even unemployment rates to rise. It will get more expensive for businesses like ours to borrow money to make new investments or hire. And customers will be harder to come by.
I am hopeful that President Obama not only addresses the debt, but that he lays out a clear plan for sustainable debt and deficit reduction that encompasses shared sacrifice and works for the good of all Americans. The plan must tackle the biggest drivers of our national debt — our inefficient entitlement programs and our outdated tax code — no matter the political sensitivities that surround these issues.
For this type of comprehensive deficit reduction plan to achieve the support it needs, it must take on the "sacred cows" of both parties. It must look beyond favored constituencies and take direction from what's best for the future of our economy and our country as a whole.
As a member of the Campaign to Fix the Debt — a national organization dedicated to helping our leaders realize a comprehensive, bipartisan agreement to bring down the debt is good politics in addition to good policy — I am hopeful President Obama will be able to get this needed conversation moving. I hope, too, that members of Congress will not shy away from having a serious, thoughtful debate about our fiscal future.
Jorge Fierro is president of The Fierro Group, based in Salt Lake City.