* Coalition includes former secretaries of State, Defense
* Failure to address fiscal woes 'a crisis in our democratic
* Framework sought for long-term fix to U.S. fiscal problems
By David Alexander
WASHINGTON, Dec 4 Fifteen former top U.S.
national security officials urged lawmakers on Tuesday to put
the United States on a sustainable fiscal path and avert
automaic spending cuts that start in January, warning that
Washington's global leadership was at stake.
The officials, who span eight presidential administrations
and include former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, James
Baker, Madeleine Albright and George Shultz, said they had
formed a coalition to underscore the need for elected leaders to
"Not only has the passage of time exacerbated some of the
economic problems, it has revealed a perhaps equally dangerous
political one: Our inability to grapple with pressing fiscal
challenges represents nothing less than a crisis in our
democratic order," said retired Admiral Mike Mullen, the
chairman of the coalition.
Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
said the coalition was urging Congress to avert the "fiscal
cliff" looming at the end of the year, when taxes are due to
rise for all wage earners and $1 trillion in automatic
government spending cuts over a decade go into force.
He said the group also was pressing for substantial deficit
reduction over the decade, wanted to see tax reforms to raise
more revenue and was encouraging lawmakers to put entitlement
programs like Medicare and Social Security on a sustainable,
"We must avoid driving our country over the fiscal cliff. No
partisan ideology is worth the cost to our nation," Mullen said.
"But just averting the disaster and kicking the can on the tough
structural decisions needed to place our economy on a sound
footing for the future is not enough."
Mullen and others said the Defense Department, which was
directed to cut $487 billion in projected spending under last
year's Budget Control Act, would have to be prepared to trim
The Pentagon "should and will take its share of cuts, but it
has to be done very carefully," said former Senator John Warner,
a past head of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Former Senator Sam Nunn said the Pentagon had three critical
areas to address to control spending - healthcare costs,
retirement spending and procurement inefficiency.
Defense healthcare and personnel costs have been rising at
an unsustainable rate in recent years, and the Pentagon has had
difficulty with spiraling costs in some of its major
"We have entitlements within the defense budget now which
are comparable to the entitlements that all of us know that
we've got to deal with outside of the defense budget," Nunn
The former officials appealed for voters to press their
lawmakers to reach an agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff and
seize the moment to begin fixing the country's long-term
Warner said those who will "benefit the most, have the most
at stake" needed to "communicate now like you've never
communicated before with your member of Congress."
The group - the Coalition for Fiscal and National Security -
also includes former Defense Secretaries Harold Brown, Frank
Carlucci and Robert Gates, former Senator Ike Skelton, former
national security adviser Sandy Berger, former Treasury
Secretary Paul O'Neill and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul