Maine has always been among the nation’s leading states in identifying and solving the critical problems that plague our country.

With our history of fierce independence, Maine’s pragmatic approach to problem-solving is an example for other states — and for the country — to follow.

Mainers have always been able to move past partisanship and do the right thing.

With Election Day now behind us, it is the perfect time for our leaders in Washington to be reminded of our state’s example.

When we ran against each other as our parties’ nominees for the United States Congress in 1994, the federal debt was $4.8 trillion.

Today, just 18 years later, it is $16.2 trillion.

Our national debt has reached a point where the consequences of inaction are no longer abstract.

Indeed, we may be forced to start dealing with the negative effects of the debt soon, and for generations to come.

We owe it to both current and future generations of Mainers to get this problem under control before it’s too late.

Our debt crisis has been neglected for too long.

In recent years, our debt has almost doubled from below the historical average of less than 40 percent of our annual economic output to over 70 percent today.

Even the strongest of economies cannot sustain such high levels of debt without severe consequences.

If we continue to do nothing, the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond yields could hit 7 percent, causing home mortgage rates to hit 10 percent and car loans to hit 13 percent.

In addition to the terrifying long-term outlook of our national debt, there is a more immediate issue looming.

Our nation is teetering on the edge of the “fiscal cliff,” the sudden and destructive combination of tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect on Jan. 1.

The changes represent $600 billion in the first year alone.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office forecasts that if we fail to act, if we fall off the cliff, the economy will once more be thrown into recession, contracting by an annual basis of 3.9 percent in the first quarter of 2013.

Inaction would be a disaster. We must make the needed cuts in a calculated and steady manner so that we allow the government and the markets adequate time to react properly.

With the short-term and long-term challenges associated with our debt so alarming, it’s time that the nation as a whole takes a page from the book of Maine’s pragmatism.

Instead of the partisan vitriol we hear so much from Washington, it’s time for politicians from both sides of the aisle to put aside the special interests and favored constituencies and come together for the sake of the nation.

A comprehensive plan to deal with the debt must avert the fiscal cliff while also putting our fiscal house in order for the long term.

The agreement must find wasteful and low-priority spending to cut, while also reforming our entitlement programs and removing economy-distorting breaks from our tax code and raising revenue.

For our leaders to enact such a plan, they must have help from all of us, providing them the support they need for the difficult decisions they must make.

A campaign is under way to help you lend them that support.

It is called the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a nonpartisan coalition of budget experts, business leaders, former members of Congress and nearly 300,000 concerned citizens from across the country.

We urge Mainers to visit and sign the Campaign’s Citizen’s Petition calling for a comprehensive deal to bring down the skyrocketing trajectory of our debt.

By signing the petition, Americans everywhere are letting Washington know that this issue cannot be put off any longer.

Our leaders must be held accountable on this issue while being encouraged to develop a strategic plan going forward.

Mainers understand the importance of hard work, accountability and pragmatism.

We must lead by example as we have done in the past and show the rest of the nation that a solution is attainable.

Our kids — and our country — depend on it. A comprehensive plan to deal with the debt must avert the fiscal cliff while also putting our fiscal house in order for the long term.