We are carrying too much debt, and unless we act, it will grow much larger very quickly.
We face the prospect of crowding out each and every future investment to pay our debts. That's why we must act now. To delay is to make a difficult task even harder.
That's why I was one of the only members of Congress to vote for a comprehensive set of budget reforms modeled on the Simpson-Bowles plan. I was one of only 38 Representatives (16 Republicans and 22 Democrats ) to vote for the $4 trillion of deficit reduction achieved in the Simpson-Bowles plan. USA Today published an editorial calling us the “Brave 38” for going where “every non-partisan budget expert and every realistic politician in Washington knows Congress will have to go to solve the budget problem.”
Non-partisan groups have taken notice as well. The Concord Coalition honored me with its Economic Patriot Award, which recognizes "those who have demonstrated a commitment to fiscal and generational responsibility." The organization No Labels gave me its "Problem-Solvers Seal," reserved for members of Congress or candidates "who are dedicated to working across the aisle to discuss effective, principled and pragmatic solutions to our country’s problems." While I am grateful for the recognition, I am eager to get to work -- with others from both parties -- to meet the great challenges we face.
It is time to restructure the budget. We should do it voluntarily – taking a balanced, fair approach that that reflects our values as a nation- or else we will be forced to do so. We cannot replace Medicare with a coupon, or voucher, system that shifts costs to the vulnerable. We cannot build more massive machinery of war designed to fight the battles of the last century. That does nothing but weaken our nation in a way no military enemy could.
Instead, we must negotiate our way to a solution. It will require balance and forethought. We will protect the most vulnerable among us, while recognizing the need to cut spending. We will make smart investments to secure our future prosperity. And we will restructure our tax code.
Let me be clear: the solution will not be a Democratic plan or a Republican plan, but it will be a comprehensive, bipartisan plan. I won't like everything in it. My colleagues from the other side of the aisle won't like everything in it. But Congress doesn't exist to save some donkey or elephant. It exists to find compromises all Americans can live with and thereby live better lives. As we tackle the debt, we must keep every proposal on the table. I believe the successful plan will include fair and well-timed spending cuts, tax reform, and long-term improvements to entitlement programs.
Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
When the economy collapsed in 2008, and the private sector was hemorrhaging 700,000 jobs per month, I took action. In 2009, I voted for massive tax cuts, a lifeline to struggling state governments, and specific, targeted investment in construction projects that were ready to start hiring right away. The Recovery Act and Federal Reserve action stopped the looming Depression in its tracks and put us back on track to growth. Since the depth of the jobs crisis, we have added 4.3 million private-sector jobs. The turnaround has been slow, but we were in a very deep hole.
When the recovery was most fragile, I voted to extend tax cuts across the board and embraced the payroll tax cuts for every American with a job. I voted against hundreds of billions of dollars in wasteful spending programs and co-sponsored legislation to require any new spending to be paid for. While I have embraced tax cuts and spending reductions when they are well-timed and prudent, I have also been an advocate for increased investment in areas like transportation and education.
When we can spend a penny to produce a dollar's worth of growth, we ought to do it. Crumbling bridges and sub-standard schools will not support sustained economic growth. We need to fix the things we have neglected for too long. That will require some smart spending. But the kneejerk rejection of all government spending is just as foolish as spending too much and getting too little in return.
Rejecting Simplistic Non-starters
In the public debate over budget reform, demagogues have tried to suggest that we can simply cut non-defense discretionary spending and fix all our fiscal woes. That's nonsense. Here's how the federal government spends your money:
The areas in blue and green represent Medicare and Social Security spending. The yellow and orange sections are for other mandatory spending, including Medicaid and veterans' benefits. The red section is for defense. The part labeled "non-security discretionary" (in light blue) represents only 13.5% of our spending. That includes everything from funding the federal courts to keeping the lights on at the Agriculture Department. It includes the money we use to support our schools and the money for the national parks. It's our transportation funding, the collection of employment data and the US census. We are not going to solve the budget crisis by cutting only discretionary spending. We have to tackle the big pieces of the budget, and do so in a way that is equitable, wise and consistent with our values.
The Promise of Bipartisanship
In 2010, President Obama convened a bipartisan commission to analyze budget projections and develop a comprehensive set of recommendations for Congress. Its members were drawn from both parties and all walks of civic life. In the end, the full panel could not reach consensus. But the commission co-chairs, former US Senator Alan Simpson and former White House Budget Director Erskine Bowles, issued their recommendations to save taxpayers $4 trillion over ten years. The Simpson-Bowles plan proposed three key changes to the budget: cuts to spending, including reducing both tax subsidies and defense; reforming Social Security for future recipients; and simplifying the tax code by eliminating loopholes and lowering overall rates.
I have consistently been an advocate for passing legislation like the Simpson-Bowles plan. I voted for it, and I did so proudly, despite what I consider to be some problems with the plan. By its very nature, no comprehensive deficit reduction plan could make anyone 100% happy. But there comes a time to recognize that insistence on ideological purity leads only to political stalemate and indefensible inaction.
Last summer, we paid the price for that intransigence. Following a needless Congressional fight over raising the debt ceiling to allow for spending that Congress itself had approved, the credit rating of US Government debt was downgraded for the first time in history, an outcome that was unnecessary and disheartening. It knocked us off course, but we can weather a downgrade. More importantly, by failing to reach the bipartisan deal that EVERYONE KNOWS WE NEED, we failed to right the ship now. Waiting another year, and ending up with a solution that will most likely look an awful lot like Simpson-Bowles anyway, was a huge mistake. We can't ignore the urgency of this problem any longer.
I will continue to work with members of both parties in Congress to try and reach consensus on a comprehensive and balanced solution to our budget problems and to bring down the deficit and debt.
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