We have a big problem with our federal budget deficit. If not properly addressed, it threatens our long-term economic future and could stunt our children’s future opportunities. We simply must address this issue in a responsible way.
Let’s be clear about a couple of things. First, deficits are something we can solve if we work together to find bipartisan compromises. America has met the challenge of a lot of crises over the years, and we can do the same here.
Second, our deficit is not just “a spending problem.” It’s a problem about wasteful and unnecessary spending, to be sure. But it’s also a challenge about revenues, economic growth and how we responsibly balance a host of legitimate competing priorities.
For example, plummeting revenues from the deep recession that started in 2008 are responsible for nearly one-third of the current deficit. That’s why economists of all stripes say that restoring strong economic growth so more Americans are working and paying taxes is the most important step we can take to put our budget back in order. And while we tackle the deficit, we cannot stop building for tomorrow or our economy will not create jobs in the future.
Simply put, complicated problems such as the federal budget deficit just don’t have easy, bumper-sticker solutions. So, where do we go from here?
First, we have to make sure we don’t do anything that costs jobs today. For example, the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives approved a budget for the rest of the year that could put hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work, in both the private and public sectors, with huge cuts in public safety, education and transportation construction projects. With unemployment in California still in double digits, their proposal points us in exactly the wrong direction!
But we must stop wasteful spending and fix broken programs. Just last week I voted to end $3 billion in funding for a second engine for a new military jet the Pentagon doesn’t want, but that Congress has continued to fund anyway. I also voted to cut subsidies to corporate farms, and have been working to get companies to pay appropriate royalties for oil and gas they extract on our public lands, which the Government Accountability Office says would save taxpayers $53 billion.
We also must acknowledge that reining in spending means some important priorities will have to go on the back burner. President Barack Obama’s new budget freezes nonsecurity spending for five years, covering everything from NASA to education and transportation. This would cut projected deficits by another $400 billion over the next decade and bring federal spending to the lowest level since President Dwight Eisenhower sat in the Oval Office. President Obama also has called for big cuts to a range of programs, such as eliminating inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that impede investment in clean energy, which would further reduce our deficit.
But even that freeze on spending, as far reaching as it is, only scratches the surface of our deficit problem. The freeze doesn’t apply to defense, homeland security, Medicare or Medicaid, which make up the majority of federal spending. President Obama has called for nearly $100 billion in defense cuts, and the health-reform bill saves billions of dollars in Medicare overpayments to insurance companies. We should be prepared to do more, but it should be noted that both of those moves have been aggressively opposed by many of the same people loudly decrying our deficits.
Fourth, we have to end the Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthiest among us. The extension of tax cuts on incomes above $250,000 would increase our deficit by nearly $1 trillion over the next decade. This is unsustainable, and economists agree that those cuts don’t really add to economic growth.
Finally, enacting spending cuts must be done with an eye toward future economic growth. Indiscriminately cutting education means our kids won’t be ready to compete in the increasingly global marketplace. Pulling back on research and development for clean energy or cutting-edge medical technologies will mean America falls behind in these growing global industries. And delaying road improvements, broadband roll-out and electricity grid efficiency upgrades means we won’t have the necessary infrastructure on which to build tomorrow’s economy.
One more thing: Congressional leaders must respect the trust the American people have placed in them. Threats to shut down the government over budget disagreements are irresponsible, and even considering defaulting on our national debt is downright reckless. Working out agreements among very divergent opinions requires a lot of give and take — from everyone — but it is what we are hired to do as public servants. Walking away if you don’t get your way is simply not an option.
I’m confident the American people are ready to pull together and make sacrifices to get our budget problems under control. I hope all members of Congress will do the same.