Understanding the Multiple Budget Deficits
In 2001, the books of the federal budget showed that we were running a surplus. That was historic, and a goal that I was very proud to have played a role in helping achieve. But beneath the government’s positive balance sheet, there were many other deficits that we would soon have to address.
The projected surplus wasn’t “squandered,” and it didn’t simply disappear into thin air. We intentionally acted to shore up the areas in which we had serious deficits. The result of these numerous deficits has created a budget deficit.
The Defense Deficit. Beginning in the early 1990s, military spending began a steady decline, eventually reaching its lowest percentage of gross domestic product since before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Infrastructure began to deteriorate. Many Marine cargo helicopters were older than their crews. Military pay also lagged: In the mid-1990s, the Department of Defense estimated that about 12,000 service members were receiving food stamps. The salaries of servicemen and -women had fallen well behind comparable positions in the private sector.
Over the past three years, basic pay alone has increased 21 percent, and when food and housing allowances are added, the increase has reached almost 29 percent. Overall, DOD’s annual budget has increased more than $130 billion to prosecute the global war on terrorism and carry out military transformation.
The Intelligence Deficit. The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the inadequate intelligence regarding Iraq, North Korea and Iran made it abundantly clear that there was a deficit of resources and focus in our intelligence community. Throughout the 1990s, not enough was done to provide the resources and people necessary to keep up intelligence capabilities.
In the past three years, we’ve made substantial investments in both of these areas.
The Homeland Security Deficit. As the attacks of Sept. 11 proved, our country was not properly prepared to deal with an attack on our own soil. Since that fateful day, this Congress and President Bush have spent extensively to safeguard our nation against future attacks. We’ve invested $50 billion and created the Department of Homeland Security, reorganized 22 agencies consisting of 180,000 employees and their missions, and invested heavily to protect the homeland against threats such as bioterrorism.
The Growth Deficit. Beginning in 2000, the seemingly robust economy had begun its decline. Corporate scandals and the burst of the Internet bubble rocked the financial markets and investor confidence. Then came the blow of Sept. 11 and its devastating human, emotional and financial toll.
Even before the shock of the terrorist attacks, President Bush and this Congress had acted to buoy the flagging economy. And we continued — and strengthened — those efforts as our nation’s economy fell into recession. Our investment paid off. As a result of our actions, the recession was among the shortest on record.
Today, we’ve witnessed two consecutive quarters of strong growth, with fourth-quarter growth at 4 percent — and third-quarter growth at 8.2 percent — the highest surge in GDP in 20 years. Almost every major economic indicator is soaring. The unemployment rate, at 5.6 percent, is at its lowest level in two years and lower than the 5.8 percent average of the 1990s. The increase in payroll employment in January was the best job growth in three years. And since September, the five-month gain in employment has totaled 366,000 new payroll jobs.
The Medicare Deficit. Medicare was on a short path to bankruptcy until President Bush and this Congress worked to modernize the program that had been running under the same system since its creation almost 40 years ago. We’ve also brought the program into the 21st century by adding a prescription drug benefit for seniors.
Like these deficits, we will correct the budget deficit as well. The one proven way to eliminate budget deficits is to have a growing economy and to control spending. I will work with my colleagues to write a budget that will do just that.
Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) is chairman of the Budget Committee.