The prospect of default on the sovereign credit of the United States of America is so frightening, so significant, so sinister and so far-reaching in its impact that we can’t fail to deal with this issue.

This admonition is not directed toward President Obama or toward Republicans or Democrats in Congress, but, instead, as a general comment by two former senators who, as Americans, are deeply concerned — and fearful of the unknowable consequences of a default.

One of us grew up in Tennessee with a first cousin who had a dry sense of humor but a deep understanding of political reality. When he was urging against a return to Washington in 1981, saying it was better to remain in Tennessee and continue to take pictures of a nesting Pileated Woodpecker, I explained I had to go back because of the debt limit bill. To which he replied: “You only have two choices — you can either pay ’em or beat ’em out of it.”

Meaning that the question is not really the debt limit but, rather, the fundamental commitment to honor our obligations. It’s about recognizing that the last thing a tenuous and fragile recovery needs is another earthquake, a wave of fear in the private sector that further inhibits job creation.

To do so, we need to reduce spending, enhance revenue, and reform our tax code and entitlement benefits — not default on our commitment to pay the obligations we have incurred.

We both believe, as did President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in “the need to maintain balance between the actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress. The lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.”

President Eisenhower provided a powerful caution. In his farewell address to the nation he said, “We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”

Howard H. Baker, a Republican, was a U.S. senator from Tennessee and Senate majority leader from 1981 to 1985. Nancy Kassebaum Baker, a Republican, was a U.S. senator from Kansas from 1978 to 1997.