January 10, 2011

Our Escalating Debt Requires Tough Spending Reforms

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

America's growing debt crisis threatens national survival, and we must take decisive action now. While the President's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform's plan is flawed and incomplete, the proposed tough spending reforms would provide important budget discipline necessary to start putting our country's financial house in order.

Since 2007, our public debt nearly doubled from 36 to 62 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Our more than $14 trillion debt equals a $45,000 debt burden per U.S. citizen. If our current course continues, this debt is estimated to reach 90 percent of GDP in 2020 and up to 185 percent of GDP by 2035. But, it will never reach that level. If we don't take decisive action soon, the economy and our debt-holders will. Then, forced consequences will change economic dynamics in painful, difficult and damaging ways to every American. The consequences will be far worse and will last far longer than any sacrifice caused by principled fiscal restraint now.

Growing debt drags down our economy. Debt of this magnitude increases interest rates for all borrowers and restricts economic growth through squeezing out private investments. Driving up entrepreneurs' and businesses' job expansion, operation improvement and capital costs results in larger debt, years of high unemployment and struggling families. Further, waiting for the economy to reset itself will leave less and more severe remedies. The Congressional Budget Office found that ten years of inaction could cause an economic decline requiring nearly double the spending cuts and revenue to plug the hole today.

Relentless, unrestrained federal deficit spending caused the debt explosion. The annual federal budget has been in balance twelve times since World War II. During those years, annual spending never exceeded 19.4 percent of GDP. In 2007, spending was 19.6 percent of GDP, our budget deficit was $161 billion, and we were on a track to balance the budget within a few years. Since then, Congress and the President have embarked on a massive, and escalating, spending spree, causing spending to explode to more than 24 percent. If we continue on this path, spending will reach 35 percent of GDP by 2035. The problem is not that taxes are too low, it is that spending is too high.

I supported the commission's plan because it would keep the hole from growing by providing hard spending caps to return to 2008 spending levels by 2013 and reach a balanced budget by 2035. Spending would be reduced to 21 percent and our debt to 40 percent of GDP by 2035. I prefer even stronger spending reductions and reaching balance much earlier, but this plan would at least stop us from going over the brink and put us on a sustained track to a balanced budget.

The plan's debt reducing mechanisms would be backed by strong enforcement procedures. Sixty Senate votes would be required for proposals to exceed budget caps on spending bills, or the proposals could be blocked. During commission consideration of this provision, I pressed for a higher threshold of 67, because it should be more difficult to exceed budget caps. The plan would also reduce the abuse of so-called emergency spending by limiting Congress' ability to avoid fiscal constraints through emergency spending designations.

The proposed spending caps are strong medicine, but our nation's debt has reached such critical proportions that we must take serious action to get back on track. We all love our country too much to let it weaken further. We must work together to set our nation on a better economic course for our children and grandchildren. The time for gridlock and inaction has passed.

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