By Senator Mike Johanns
There are two debates going on in Washington regarding our national debt. One has been the immediate question of raising the debt ceiling; the other is on the future of government spending. Simply raising the debt ceiling to allow for more borrowing and more debt is not a solution to our current debt problem. Serious steps must be taken to reverse our ballooning debt and get us back on sound financial footing. I’m a co-sponsor of one such solution that deserves additional consideration in Congress: the Cut, Cap and Balance bill.
As it sounds, this bill is a three-fold approach to restoring government spending to acceptable, sustainable levels. First and foremost, the bill cuts spending almost immediately, returning many government expenditures to 2008 levels. This means the exorbitant spending unleashed by the ill-fated stimulus of 2009 and the bloated health care law of 2010, among others, would be counterbalanced by spending cuts. Second, the bill also puts a cap on future spending, limiting federal funding to a percentage of our economy over the next decade.
Making this fiscal responsibility structurally permanent would be the third facet of the legislation, transmitting a balanced budget Constitutional amendment to the states for ratification. Such a requirement is nothing new to Nebraska, which already has its own Balanced Budget Amendment. A similar amendment at the federal level is long overdue, and would make fiscal responsibility as American as the Bill of Rights. While the cut and cap portions would go into effect immediately once passed by Congress and signed by the President, the Balanced Budget Amendment would need to be ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures. I’m confident Nebraska would be one of them. In fact, 49 of our 50 states currently have some form of a Balanced Budget Amendment; it’s time to employ one in Washington.
All three of these facets are critical to holding future Congresses accountable to the reality that we are currently spending dangerously beyond our means. A similar version of this bill has already passed in the House of Representatives, but unfortunately stalled in the Senate last week despite my support. With more and more economists sounding warning bells about our debt, I still hope it can gain traction to get the 60 Senate votes needed. At the very least, major components of this legislation should be enacted into law.
Significantly reversing our debt is the only way forward. Ratings agencies are overtly warning us that an economic catastrophe awaits us if we don’t act. We can still avoid the debt crises currently plaguing countries across Europe. The United States has always stood up to face challenges, and we must do so again. The Cut, Cap and Balance legislation would help to get our fiscal house in order and preserve the strength of our great country for the future.