Ken Connor

As with weight loss and New Year's Resolutions, an ambitious plan to balance the budget will only be as good as Congress's ability to stick to it. This will require discipline on the part of current and future representatives to faithfully adhere to whatever budget plan emerges from current negotiations. It will do no good to establish lofty goals for reducing the debt if pandering politicians jump ship when the going gets tough.

Balancing the budget will require determination.

Inevitably, feathers are going to be ruffled in the course of the budget debates. As mentioned, we're already seeing this in response to Paul Ryan's ambitious debt-reduction plan. If we have any hope of emerging from the deep hole we've dug for ourselves, we'll need leaders who are determined to achieve this important goal and citizens who will support those who have the courage to make the tough choices. This will require placing the common good ahead of individual priorities and ambitions at all levels of the debate.

Balancing the budget will require discernment.

For too long, the American people and those who represent them on Capitol Hill have been unable to distinguish between their wants and their needs. Consequently, the size of government has ballooned and the average citizen's dependence on government has grown. Now that we've maxed out the national credit card, it's time to set some priorities. The American people need to rid themselves of the harmful, reckless assumption that government exists to do their work for them, take their risks for them, and insulate them from the consequences of their actions. Government, on the other hand, must recognize that its intrusion into every aspect of American life stifles the American spirit, hampers enterprise, and stagnates the economy.

Once upon a time, the American people possessed the virtues of discipline, determination and discernment. Back then, we lived within our means and understood the importance of delayed gratification. But, times have changed. These days, our "Me, Myself, and I" culture insists on instant gratification and has been all too willing to mortgage the future of our children and grandchildren in order to have it all now.

President Obama has been talking a lot lately about "winning the future," but we won't be winning anything with a $14.3 trillion millstone hanging around our necks. In order to move forward, the American people must first be willing take a giant step back and make some fundamental changes in our attitude about debt. One thing’s for certain: There'll be no fixing this without significant discomfort on everyone's part. The sooner we accept that, the sooner we can get to work fixing this problem.

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.