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U.S. National Debt:


By Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

Without a doubt, our current level of debt, and the path we are on in creating future debt, is both unsustainable and unacceptable. As a member of the Senate Budget Committee, I have been a supporter of the efforts of our Chairman and Ranking Member to call attention to the immediate need to address the debt. I was initially supportive of their effort to create a bipartisan commission, the Conrad/Gregg commission, to address the debt, especially when there were no other serious proposals. But, as the debate over this commission moved forward, it became apparent that many who have long fought for spending and more taxing shifted their position from opposition to support because they identified the commission as a way to achieve their objective of raising taxes-just as the President's new budget seeks to do. I object to the creation of a special commission that will likely lead to tax increases.

It is the problem of overspending that requires expedited procedures. Before other options were proposed, the Conrad/Gregg commission was a "take it or leave it" proposal to either deal with the debt or continue to ignore it. Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) offered a much more effective approach with an amendment that focused solely on spending reduction, rather than a commission that would likely lead to higher taxes. In this circumstance, given my longstanding co-sponsorship of Senator Brownback's spending reduction commission proposal, I simply made the decision to support the better option to control spending.

As all of these proposals were offered and debated, numerous taxpayer organizations, such as the American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Citizens Against Government Waste, and the National Taxpayers Union, have joined in opposition to the Conrad/Gregg proposal because it "would lead to a guaranteed tax increase."

Some suggest that our current debt problems were caused by the broad-based, bipartisan tax relief laws enacted by Congress in 2001 and 2003. In reality, after this relief, the revenue collected by the Treasury remained at, and sometimes above, the historic average of about 18% of GDP until the current recession began. In its latest report, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) stated that if Congress passed no other stimulus legislation and extended the 2001 and 2003 tax relief past 2010, its projections for GDP growth would be higher, and unemployment lower, in 2011 than under projections based on current law.

In our current situation, our growing debt has been driven by overspending rather than lack of revenue. It is my expectation that, if we maintain current tax policy, revenues will return to their historic average and we will move toward economic recovery. Our focus should be on curtailing overspending.

I have supported several amendments in the last two weeks that specifically seek to do just that: Senator John Thune's (R-South Dakota) amendment to end the TARP program; Senator Tom Coburn's (R-Oklahoma) amendments to streamline duplicative spending programs and begin to eliminate wasteful spending; Senator Jeff Sessions' (R-Alabama) amendment to impose 5 years of hard discretionary spending caps; and Senator Brownback's amendment to create a commission to specifically address all federal spending.

Spending has surged well beyond our historic average of revenue. Because of this, and because the Conrad/Gregg commission would open the door to harmful and unwise tax increases, I support Senator Brownback's approach and voted for his amendment. While none of the individual amendments I have supported in this recent process will fully solve our debt problem, they are important first steps, and I will continue to pursue additional opportunities to curb the main cause of our debt---overspending.

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