June 21, 2006

FACING OUR FISCAL REALITY

Guest opinion by Senator Mike Crapo

Fiscal health requires lowered taxes and reduced spending. Congress has taken steps toward the first, now we must turn our attention to the second. For this reason, Iâ??ve joined my colleagues in the Senate to introduce the Stop Over-Spending Act of 2006, or the S.O.S. Act. This legislation, intended to curtail dangerous spending habits that our nation has acquired in recent years, has cleared the Budget Committee and is on its way to the floor for consideration by the full Senate. Our budget process is broken. Riddled with gimmicks and obfuscation, the current spending framework allows unfunded obligations to pile up virtually unchecked. Right now, mandatory spending grows at eight percent annuallyâ??with no braking mechanism. All responsibility for payments is pushed forward onto the undeserving shoulders of our children and grandchildren. The S.O.S. Act rescues our nation from this ever-increasing maelstrom of excessive, irresponsible spending.The bill initiates a line item veto tool that allows a President to target wasteful spending. The President can submit four rescission packages annually to be considered by Congress in an (un-amendable) expedited fashionâ??eight days to be exact. Rescission savings must be used for deficit reduction and may include any discretionary funding or new mandatory funding. This provision would expire in four years in order to gauge its effectiveness in reducing spending. The legislation aims to balance the budget by 2012 by implementing decreasing deficit limits measured as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). For example, in 2007, the deficit would be limited to 2.75 percent of GDP. If this limit is breached, mandatory reconciliation would be enforced. Among other reconciliation procedures, each authorizing committee would be required to report legislation that achieves savings equal to the amount instructed by the Budget Committee; if the reconciliation bill does not meet mandatory saving requirements, automatic across-the-board reductions would go into effect. Notably, Social Security and obligations backed by the full faith and credit of the federal government would be exempt. The S.O.S. Act reinstates statutory caps on discretionary funding, most significantly â??emergencyâ?? spending which has jumped from approximately $30 billion (the historical average) in 2002, to over $160 billion in 2006. In recent years, this â??emergencyâ?? spending has amounted to nearly 20 percent of discretionary spending, creating shadow budgets that contribute 100 percent to the deficit. Reasonable emergency funding limits will be set that return this funding to its historical average.This year, our nation has debated many issues including immigration, the Middle East and energy supplies. These discussions are critical to the future of our country. The Stop Over-Spending Act of 2006 engages our country in another critical issue facing our nation: out-of-control federal spending. The writing is on the wall--short term deficits are projected above $300 billion in Fiscal Year 2007, and Baby Boomers will begin to retire in just two years, increasing Social Security and Medicare obligations. If that isnâ??t enough to give us (more) gray hair, consider that Medicare is on track to be insolvent in seven years and, at the current rate, federal programs will cost U.S. taxpayers $46.4 trillion over the next 75 years. (Our country has only collected $40 trillion in taxes since we became a nation.) Time has passed for incremental change. The ledger shows us all we need to know about our nationâ??s fiscal reality; now, itâ??s up to us to take action. Sometimes doing the right thing isnâ??t easy, but our children and grandchildren will thank us for taking this needed step in the name of personal and collective responsibility and fiscal health. WORD COUNT: 591