Citizens would have a chance to help pay down the national debt as they fill out their income tax forms each year, according to a bill just introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Charlie Wilson, D-Ohio.
His Republican opponent in the upcoming election, however, dismissed it as a political maneuver that is coming too late.
The "Check the Debt" bill Wilson introduced last week would add a check box to annual tax forms allowing taxpayers to contribute $3 toward paying down the national debt, which currently stands at more than $13 trillion. Wilson said the contribution would not add to the donor's tax bill.
"I often hear from Ohioans who are worried about the financial burden we are leaving for the next generation; they want to know if there is anything they can do to help," Wilson said in a recent press release.
In addition to the debt reduction bill, Wilson said he is introducing or co-sponsoring a package of legislation aimed at "making common sense spending decisions to chip away at the expanding debt."
He is lead sponsor of a bill to be introduced next week establishing an independent, bipartisan Sunset Commission that would review and make recommendations for federal programs that should be eliminated after their original purpose has been outlived.
At a glance
"The Government Efficiency, Effectiveness and Performance Improvement Act of 2010," part of a 10-bill package U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Ohio, is sponsoring or co-sponsoring to tackle the national debt, passed the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday.
The bill, now headed for the U.S. Senate, requires each federal agency to complete an annual assessment of existing programs to determine each program's effectiveness, and develop improvement plans to address any programs not meeting established goals or that have performed poorly.
For more information on legislation aimed at trimming the national debt, visit www.charliewilson.house.gov
"With escalating spending and a growing national debt, there is a legitimate concern about how we begin to correct our economic course," he added. "As a Blue Dog Democrat, I have always taken tackling our debt very seriously."
But Bill Johnson, Wilson's Republican opponent in the November general election, begs to differ.
"I find it awfully interesting that 14 to 15 weeks before the start of early voting, Wilson is developing a fiscal backbone," Johnson said. "And I think it takes a lot of nerve that, on top of a huge tax burden, he's asking Americans to give money to reduce the debt."
He said Wilson has previously voted on spending bills that "got us into this situation in the first place."
"All he had to do was say no," Johnson said. "He's not really doing anything now but asking Americans to bail the government out.
"We should hold every federal agency accountable for the programs they oversee, and the size of government has to be trimmed by cutting back on programs that are not working," he said.
Hillary Wicai Viers, a spokeswoman for the congressman's Washington, D.C., office, said that at the time Wilson supported the bills that increased spending, the national economy was on the brink of collapse.
"Our fiscal house was on fire, and you can't just let it burn," she said. "Congressman Wilson stood to put out that fire.
"Once the fire was out he said he would take on the debt, and that's what he is doing," Viers said. "This is what he's said from the get-go."
Viers noted contributions to pay down the debt are already accepted from citizens through the Treasury Department's Office of Public Debt.
"But that's not widely known, and only brought in about $3 million in 2009," Viers said.
She said nearly 33 million people annually contribute to the public financing of political campaigns by checking a box on their tax forms.
"If as many people contributed through the 'Check the Debt' box, it could mean $99 million annually to reduce the debt," Viers added.
"The congressman believes this would be a common-sense approach."
Locally, Wes Casto, who recently moved back to the Marietta area from Louisiana, wasn't too keen on the idea.
"It's the government's job to take care of that debt," he said. "I don't think this would work anyway because (Congress) would know this funding is coming in and would simply adjust the budget and keep spending."
Sunnie Kuhleman of New Matamoras agreed.
"I would be opposed to it," she said of 'Check the Debt.'
"Our national debt just keeps growing, and when they started bailing out corporations last year, I said we're all going to end up paying for it eventually," Kuhleman added.