SUMNER – From the debate today about the debt ceiling and deficits, you wouldn’t know that America has, for the last two generations, achieved the impossible time and again.

Forty years ago we put a man on the moon. Sixty-five years ago we helped defeat a juggernaut of pure evil in Europe. We have led globally in modernizing medicine, developing the Internet, and providing top-notch college and graduate education.

We have long had the strongest economy, the biggest middle class and broadly shared prosperity. We’ve been on top.

But now we’re slipping and Mainers are struggling to get by. And what’s mind-boggling is that many of our elected leaders seem almost happy to declare that our country is broke and only a few can enjoy life’s bounty. Instead of imagining a future for our children to thrive in, they’re saying it’s time to pull back.

So let’s be clear: The policies proposed by politicians contradict our defining American belief that our main job is to create a future that is better for our children than it is for us — and not just our children, but for all children.

Why isn’t the greatest problem-solving nation solving problems? What will be the big achievements of the 21st century? Finding a cure for cancer? Designing super-fast trains and highways that can transform transportation and energy consumption? Rebuilding our middle class and a ladder of economic opportunity?

We’re miles from those achievements and headed in the wrong direction. Here in Maine, the unemployment rate is 7.7 percent and one out of every 2,351 families had to file for foreclosure last year alone. Meanwhile, the Legislature passed a bill that repeals Mainers’ right to register to vote on Election Day.

Elected leaders across the country are calling for the defunding of foreclosure counseling and food aid for the poor and blocking job training and transportation infrastructure, all while upholding tax subsidies for profiteers and the super-rich.

That’s while working people’s voices are silenced in the voting booth and through collective bargaining — pushing them out of the conversation instead of inviting them to be part of the solution.

These are political choices, not economic ones, and they are intended to undermine the power of working people. The people of Maine deserve better. The people of America deserve better.

It’s time to recognize that the deficit our country faces is a moral deficit. We must begin where the American people want our future to be. That means returning balance to our economy. It means restoring progressive taxation.

President Obama is right — the Bush tax cuts for the rich must end. Billionaires should pay higher rates than millionaires, and millionaires should pay higher rates than the upper middle class. And we must end tax breaks for big corporations.

Working people believe that we must start by preserving economic security for working Americans and our families, which begins with strengthening, not cutting, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

We must invest in America, both now and for the future. We need to spend $2.2 trillion just to shore up our existing national infrastructure.

But to be able to compete with China, Germany and others, we need to invest another $2 trillion in the technologies of the 21st century — in high-speed rail and clean energy buildings and the smart grid and universal broadband.

If we want to tackle the future, though, we have to deal with the present — that means reinvesting heavily in infrastructure, not abandoning it, to create jobs that strengthen the middle class and make America competitive.

We know what Speaker John Boehner and his colleagues want. Their dream is different from ours — it’s based in a country defined by the political imperative of its wealthiest, not its heartland.

For the working people of Maine and across the country, the American dream is rooted in the belief that everyone can be full participants in national life.

In our dream, we the people make the rules so that hard work is rewarded with economic security and a future of greatness. Every person must ensure that our elected leaders understand the difference.

That’s the direction we must go, and the journey must begin now.

– Special to the Press Herald