“We can do better; we need to do better,” said Thomas D. Rath, a former attorney general of New Hampshire and recent recipient of a Distinguished Citizen Award from the Boy Scouts of America. He made that statement during his award reception speech when discussing the political climate, calling for better leadership and more genuine citizen engagement from town hall to the White House.

His words have lingered with me. Rath has that talent, an ability to draw you in and then say something that sticks.

There are numerous important issues on which we need to do better. Many are being discussed at the local and national level. But one of the biggest issues – literally – that has not been discussed in any real detail is the nation’s $22 trillion total debt.

$22,000,000,000,000 … and growing.

There is obviously good debt and bad debt. But our national debt is growing for all the wrong reasons and providing very little forward-looking investment. Without question, it is critical to discuss the issues of the day and pursue solutions. However, too often elected leaders focus so much on today they lose sight of tomorrow. A crisis mindset takes over and the long-term view of policies and their effects is lost.

Congress appears stuck in the trenches, unable to see over the next hill and struggling to complete even its most basic tasks, like the budget process.

In the most recent presidential candidate debates, the national debt and annual budget deficit were brought up about as many times as a millennial has used a payphone.

Candidates occasionally paid lip-service to the need to pay for new policies, or referenced their plans to do so, but spent more time yelling over each other than diving into detail. None seemed to acknowledge they would also have to address existing and unsustainable fiscal challenges, but few national issues exist in a vacuum.

We could have a hearty debate over which political party is most to blame for our debt issues, but the facts are not up for debate. Increases in federal spending are outpacing economic growth and revenue generation. Annual budget deficits are widening, and the debt is growing rapidly.

In fiscal 2018, the budget deficit was $779 billion. The nation borrowed more than it spent on defense ($623 billion), and the same can be said for all non-defense discretionary spending ($639 billion). We committed more to interest on the debt ($325 billion) than important spending areas like, education, transportation, veterans benefits and services and international affairs combined.

What is debatable? Where we are headed and whether our fiscal trajectory will change. The current path looks pretty grim, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Under current law, which does not include realistic trends in policymaking, the publicly-held-debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to rise from 78% to 144% over the next 30 years. The former is nearly double the nation’s 50-year average. The latter would be a rather ominous national record.

In a CBO “alternative scenario,” which takes a more realistic view of future policy – like raising strict spending caps set to go into place in fiscal 2020 and extending individual income tax breaks – the same debt-to-GDP ratio could reach 219% in 2049.

That does not include new initiatives or new investments. It does not include many of the priorities or promises expressed by presidential candidates, like expanding health care, new infrastructure investments, efforts to combat climate change and more. That is the status quo.

In this politically gridlocked era of national politics, very little progress is being made on key issues of the day and we are handing down a legacy of debt to younger generations. We are saddling them with the daunting cost-burden of past policy decisions, necessary future investments and their own current cost of living.

We can do better. We need to do better.

There are fundamental, national changes taking place: our country is aging, we have a mature economy and we have a less productive workforce. That combination is causing a long-term economic slowdown. There is no growing our way out of our debt predicament and there is no escaping politically difficult decisions.

Another fact to consider: the last time our country saw more responsible, long-term fiscal policy that produced balanced budgets and surpluses was also largely a time when divided government formed policy in Washington. Meaning, opposing political parties controlled competing parts of the government and they had to compromise.

That is not necessarily a call for moderation, but it is a call for working together to solve problems. Leaders should be capable of both standing for principles and finding areas of common ground.

More than stump speeches and political rhetoric are needed. Policymakers and presidential candidates from both parties should put pen-to-paper on plans to address present and future challenges, like the national debt and the core drivers of our unsustainable budget path. Then, with bipartisan support, act.

Chase Hagaman is a community advisory member of the Seacoast Media Group’s editorial board, New England regional director of The Concord Coalition and host of Concord’s weekly radio show and podcast, Facing the Future.