ST. PAUL, Minn. - Three Capitol Hill alumni from differentpoints along the political spectrum have joined forces to urge a fundamental, long-term budget fix.

Former CongressmenMartin Olav Sabo and Tim Penny, and former U.S. Sen.Rudy Boshwitz, on Tuesday launched the Minnesota Chapter of Fix the Debt, a national organization devotedto moving the federal debt to the front burner in Washington.

"Our goal is to educate Minnesotans about the seriousness of the growing national debt, and a need for a comprehensive solution," Penny told reporters.

The nation is quickly approaching the self-imposed debt ceiling of $16.3 trillion. So far Fix the Debt has gathered 341,000 signatures on a petition calling for a solution that includes entitlement programs as well as discretionary spending.

"We believe that over the next decademore than$4 trillionof deficit reduction needs to be enacted," Penny remarked.

"That would stabilize our debt. It wouldn't sadly do a lot to reduce the debt, but it would stabilize the debt and give us some growing room."

Penny, who spent 12 years in Congress representing southern Minnesota's 1st District as a moderate Democrat, ran for governor in 2002 under the Independence Party banner. He is one of the founders of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

One point the campaign is trying to reinforce is that as the US government borrows more heavily to cover its debt, it will increasingly compete with consumers and businesses for that pool of money available for loans.

Sabo, who spent 28 years at the U.S. Capitol, said he was most concerned at the trajectory of debt into the coming decades, where interest payments will tick upward as a percentage of the size of the U.S. economy.

"We've got to start declining the ratio between our debt and our gross domestic product," he said.

Hesaid part of the budget gridlock results from the changing nature of Congress. Members spend less time in Washington these days and find it more difficult to form personal connections that might pave the way for compromise.

Sabo cited thesweeping Social Security settlement in 1983that wasnegotiated between President Reagan and Tip O'Neill, the leader of the House Democrats, as an example of the types of "grand bargains" that are rarely seen.

Penny agreed.

"If you have a relationship with your colleagues, it makes it far more difficult to stay in your partisan trench and lob grenades at the other side."

Rudy Boschwitz, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1978 to 1991, said he prefers to tackle Social Security first.

"One of the important things to do is to fix what's fixable. And as it happens, Social Security, is fixable," Boschwitz said.

Boschwitz, who became a familiar face in Minnesota doing TV commercials for his Plywood Minnesota, remains active in Republican politics.