December 27, 2012

National debt: The buck stops here

Scott Soucy says the nation’s debt is everyone’s problem and he has a plan to solve it, $1 at a time.

By ELI SASLOW, The Washington Post

(Continued from page 1)

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Scott Soucy sits in Middletown, Del.,waiting to talk to passersby about the national debt.

Washington Post photos by Michael S. Williamson

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At Dewey Beach, Del., Scott Soucy, left, chats with Victor Virdin and Veronica Wilkerson. Helping pay the debt down, he says, is an act of patriotism.

He had always adhered to a code of responsible citizenship, enlisting in the Navy after high school in New York and serving for six years before later joining the Army. He gutted out six months in Iraq with a bad back, swallowing painkillers in secret so nobody would know he was hurting. Then he retired voluntarily earlier than he had planned, because it was more forthright than shirking the Army's annual fitness test.

In the years since, he had applied the same tenets of duty and accountability to civilian life. His family gave 10 percent of its income to charity, exercised daily and paid debts on time. As a father, he considered it his "responsibility to give the country a good product," he said, so each of his three children -- ages 18, 16 and 13 -- sat down for annual contract negotiations with their parents. They promised good grades, community service or soccer goals in exchange for iPads and computers.

"I want them to learn that life is based on concrete cause and effect," he said. "You do something, and you get paid. You owe something, and you pay it."


It was one reason why the national debt had always bothered him: Here was a place that defied the rule -- a place where debt went only in one direction and seemingly no one was held accountable.

"Maybe I'm accountable," Soucy thought while watching a story on TV about the debt early in 2011, as it surpassed $14 trillion. He sat down with paper and a pen to formulate a plan. Every adult, from millionaires to welfare recipients, would donate $1 per paycheck. "We're already talking billions right there," he said. Big businesses would donate $1 from each transaction over $10, an act of selflessness that would appeal to customers. "Suddenly we're in the trillions," he said. "Are you kidding me? You can't afford to lose a dollar? It's that easy."

He presented the plan at a Dunkin' Donuts to the mayor of Middletown, who directed him to a state senator, who published Soucy's idea on a Web site. Soucy sent messages to Donald Trump, Fox News and Vice President Biden. When none responded, he started buying tables at business banquets and chatting up chief executives. He advertised on local cable. He personally sent in more than $300 to the debt. He approached strangers walking on the beach and politicians hosting campaign fundraisers.

"The debt is the biggest problem we have," he told them. "Back in the day, people gave their lives to save this country. I'm just asking you to give a check."

Another day, another $4 billion added to the national debt, and another statement of "no progress" from leaders in Congress.

Soucy left his house and drove to the post office, where the employee at the door greeted him by name.

When people such as Soucy call to request the mailing address, a representative sometimes reminds them that: "You can't get your money back" and "You know, each American would have to pay about $52,000 to get us even."

But, for Soucy, it was also an act of muscle memory -- less about the principal of the debt than the principle of the habit -- so he stepped up to the post office counter.

"Somebody has to do something," he said, and so he handed over an envelope with a check, for $32.


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