Where is the fiscal restraint?

"This will not be easy.  It will require us to make difficult decisions and face challenges we've long neglected."

- President Obama, during his summit on fiscal responsibility at the White House.

In spite of the rhetoric from the President, government spending is completely out of control in Washington.  As American families across the country cut back and tighten their belts, Washington has cut loose and is spending like there is no tomorrow.

Just this year, we authorized the second tranche of TARP funds at a cost of $350 billion.  Next came the $787 billion so-called stimulus plan, which Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid took as an opportunity to further their policies that have little to do with creating jobs.  Then, just two weeks later, Congress passed a $410 billion “omnibus” appropriations bill for the rest of this fiscal year.  And now we see the proposed multi-trillion dollar budget for next year.

Our nation’s fiscal situation is dire.  The liabilities of our runaway entitlement programs will literally bankrupt the country if nothing is done to change the path we are on.  Yet we continue to ignore this grave situation, and now we are adding new programs and expanding old programs as if our resources were unlimited.  They are not.

And much of this explosion in spending comes in the shape of growing government.  Each new government program develops a constituency that benefits, making it difficult, if not impossible to close down or scale back the program in the future.  People who have been around Washington long enough know that the closest thing to eternal life here on Earth is a federal government program.

We could have passed a stimulus bill that allowed families to keep more of their money, coupled with real infrastructure spending, which is inherently temporary.  When a construction project is finished the contractor moves on to the next job.  There is no lobby group that will be trolling the halls of Congress counting just enough votes to ensure this new program is never cut.

Stimulus spending should be quick, targeted, and effective.  I also believe it should be temporary; otherwise it’s not stimulus, its just new and more government spending. 

Unfortunately for our children and grandchildren, the stimulus plan written by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid massively expanded government, creating new programs, and widening the reach of others.  Down the road, when the recession is over, it will be politically difficult to reign in this type of spending.

And now, President Obama has released his budget for the coming fiscal year in which he projects cutting the deficit in half in three years. 

I give the President credit for talking about fiscal responsibility.  However, when you get down to the bottom of his deficit plan, you realize how shallow the goal really is.  The President is saying that three years from now we are going to deficit spend at half the rate we do now.  Yet, we just spent $800 billion on the stimulus package and another $400 billion on appropriations.  Of course there’s going to be less deficit spending in the future.  That is like an individual going out and buying a new house and putting it on his credit card and then saying, “It’s alright, I’ll spend less money next year when I don’t buy a house.” 

To be very clear, I want to work with President Obama to bring spending under control and restore fiscal responsibility to Washington.  When I first came to Congress, I served on the Budget Committee when a Republican Congress worked with President Clinton to balance the budget.  We managed to pass a balanced budget for four consecutive years in a row, and paid down the public debt four years in a row.  Fiscal responsibility is not limited to one party—indeed it will take serious bipartisan effort to get control of spending in Washington.  We stand ready and willing to make the difficult choices to get our country back on the right track toward fiscal viability.  It is difficult to see where President Obama intends to make any of these difficult choices.

Instead, his path to halving the deficit includes raising taxes through a proposed “cap and trade” plan on businesses and consumers and raising taxes on individuals in the upper tax bracket (the majority of these people are small business owners filing as individuals—small businesses create 70 percent of new jobs each year, jobs that are sorely needed in a recession), and counting on reductions in spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This hardly looks to me like making difficult decisions and facing challenges like he spoke about at his White House fiscal responsibility summit.  And I see no effort to reduce or eliminate wasteful, ineffective or duplicative government programs.   

Spending in Washington is not just runaway; it has run right off the tracks.  First the so-called stimulus took advantage of the economic situation to grow government.  Now we hear the President’s big goal is to return spending to the deficit levels of President Bush’s administration—deficits he campaigned against with great fervor.  We desperately need some fiscal sanity and fiscal restraint in Washington.  I stand ready to work with the President if he is serious about restoring fiscal responsibility to our government’s budget.

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