Cutting the Deficit: Why it Matters, What We’re Doing About it

Published in: Huckleberry Press, Othello Outlook, The Ritzville Adams County Journal, Davenport Times, Newport Miner, Wilbur Register and Grand Coulee Star.

In the time it takes you to read this op-ed, the national debt will grow by $10 million. For the entire year, the federal government will borrow $1.6 trillion – an all-time record. The entire national debt stands at $14 trillion – or about $45,000 per person. And under President Obama’s budget plan, that debt burden will double to $90,000 per person in the next 10 years.

There are some Members of Congress who look at those numbers and shrug. I am not one of them. Like most taxpayers in Eastern Washington, I am alarmed at the size of our debt burden. As parents and grandparents, we fear the impact that reckless spending and borrowing will have on the future of the American Dream. We want our children and grandchildren to live that Dream and we are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to preserve it.

As a critical first step to restoring fiscal sanity, on February 19, I voted for a budget plan that cuts $100 billion in federal spending. While these are the largest spending cuts in U.S. history, they are far from draconian cuts. In fact, they represent about 2 percent of the federal budget. Every year, families and small businesses look for places to save money – especially in tough economic times – and there’s no reason the government can’t do the same.

Having said that, I do acknowledge that even a 2 percent cut will cause tough adjustments. And there are good programs – even great programs – which are facing cuts. Take agricultural programs, for instance. As someone who grew up and worked on a family farm, I know first-hand how agricultural programs benefit the ag industry – an industry which remains the largest in Eastern Washington. But given the fact that federal spending has grown 36 percent over the last four years, the entire budget has to go on a diet – and while no budget plan is perfect, the plan we passed is much better than the status quo.

The spend, borrow, and bailout policies of the past two years have clearly failed. The national unemployment rate has been above 8.5 percent for 24 straight months – the longest streak since the Great Depression – even though President Obama rammed through a $800 billion stimulus bill in a misguided attempt to revive the economy.

We cannot have a true economic recovery until our leaders get serious about the national debt. As Paul Willen, an economics professor at MIT, said last year, to create jobs, the private sector needs “to know that Washington can make tough choices, that our leaders are willing to do things that are unpopular. More than anything, people need to feel that this is not out of control.”

That is true. The private sector isn’t fooled by the government’s spending and borrowing. They know that every dollar the government borrows will needs to be paid back (with interest) – either in higher taxes or through government-induced inflation. We need to give small business owners the confidence they need to grow and create jobs – and fiscal discipline is essential to that.

I am hopeful that President Obama and the Senate will work constructively with the House to put America on a path to fiscal sanity and avoid a government shutdown. Otherwise, we are in danger of causing a massive debt crisis in our great country. As we recently saw in Greece and the European Union, government spending and debt can lead to disastrous consequences. If the President and Congress can’t agree to reduce federal spending and borrowing – and soon – we will have a Greek-like crisis in America in the next few years. And by then, it will be too late because there’s no one left to bail out America.

The people of Eastern Washington understand this. They know that balancing the budget isn’t a liberal or conservative issue; it’s just a requirement of life. And yet, as the debate moves forward, there will be politicians who will try to change the subject. They will ignore the debt. They will focus exclusively on the spending cuts. Every single cut. Looking at it objectively, there are places where we should be cutting more and places where we shouldn’t cut at all, but to pass a bill through Congress and have it signed into law, we must unite behind the best plan available because the debt crisis is real and urgent.

No Member of Congress enjoys cutting spending. To do what is right, we need the American people to make their voices heard. Talk to your friends about the debt crisis. Call into radio shows and write letters to the editor in support of the House budget. In this fight every person matters. And you can never do too much. I pledge to do my part. Will you join me?

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers represents Washington’s Fifth District in the U.S. Congress.

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