Cutting Spending

Cutting Spending To Lower Debt Is In Our Future

By Senator Mike Johanns

When the topic of the public debt comes up, many are quick to blame the budget deficits on the previous Administration. While there is plenty of shared responsibility, this response fails to acknowledge the true problem of our national debt, nor does it justify our current astronomical and unsustainable rate of federal spending.

In 2008, our public debt totaled $5.8 trillion. Another way to consider this: from the birth of our nation until less than two years ago, our government spent $5.8 trillion more than it collected. Astonishingly, President Obama’s budgets are projected to more than double that amount – to $12.3 trillion by 2013. In other words, the President in one term is set to more than double the amount of debt accrued by every President from George Washington to George W. Bush. By 2019, the debt is projected to triple.

These are truly uncharted waters for our country, and simply blaming others does not hide our serious financial situation that will require tough decisions and bold leadership. Unfortunately, leaders in Congress and the Administration have been evading this responsibility and have only enabled the burden to grow heavier. When Congress passed a provision last February requiring all proposed additional non-emergency spending to be paid for up front, there was widespread applause and pats on the back. Yet in the three short months since the passage of PAYGO law (Pay As You Go), Congress has conveniently waived the requirements three times instead of adhering to fiscal discipline. As a result, billions of dollars were added to our national debt.

Even small efforts to rein in spending have run into roadblocks. For example, Congress traditionally passes an annual budget resolution as a fiscal roadmap for our country. However, progress is stalled for next year’s budget because agreements to cut just $8-10 billion in spending – less than one-third of one percent of the budget – are proving elusive. Our country is literally on an unsustainable spending trajectory and yet even the smallest cuts cannot be agreed upon.

It would be foolish to think we can continue accruing debt while escaping consequences. Just this week, the European Union, with seemingly no other viable options, was forced to fund a bailout for Greece, whose debt has grown to 115 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Our debt is currently 60 percent of our GDP, and under the President’s proposed budget is projected to increase to 90 percent in the next decade. Should our country’s circumstances become as dire as Greece’s, there would be no bailout. We would be in serious trouble.

No one knows the importance of acting now better than our country’s leading economic officials. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner recently told Congress, “We’re living with unsustainable deficits;” and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stressed the solution is “not something that is ten years away” and that it’s “very, very important” for the government to “bring itself back to a sustainable position.” I agree completely, and will continue looking for ways to work with my colleagues to lower spending and rein in our national debt. Congress must confront our bloated debt, or future generations will face the consequences.

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