Rogers: Grab a Shovel and Start Digging Out of Debt

Posted December 1, 2010 at 11:23am

Any casual analysis of our federal budget picture should raise our financial security threat level to red. We’re borrowing roughly 42 cents out of every dollar, and the future liabilities we’ve shouldered on our children are in the trillions.

Continuing down this path, where debt rapidly subsumes an ever-growing chunk of our economy, is clearly unsustainable — even under the rosiest of budget projections.

Aside from the threat of economic stagnation, many in the national security sphere, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have suggested that a failure by the U.S. government to tighten its purse strings could have severe implications for our nation’s defense.

While a lot of finger-pointing and revisionist history has surrounded the debate over how we’ve reached this point of no return, the bottom line is that reining in out-of-control spending is our government’s principal financial problem and the most significant challenge before us today. The White House economic team members, save for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, have packed their bags along with their liberal economic theories and thankfully left town.

However, not before they sold America a failed stimulus bill that never delivered on job creation, supported efforts  led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to increase energy bills, and throttled through an irresponsible big-government health care package that neither lowers the cost of health care nor reduces the deficit.

If we continue with their economic plan, Congressional Budget Office estimates federal debt will reach a whopping $20 trillion by 2020, nearly 90 percent of the economy. By that point, the United States will be spending more than $1 billion per day just to cover interest payments, crowding out spending for vital programs such as defense and homeland security.

While the average American family would be hard-pressed to justify charging 90 percent of its income on a credit card, why is the administration holding our country to a recklessly lower standard, tossing our coveted AAA credit rating into the balance and threatening to send our economy into a tailspin?

It is painfully clear that folks in Washington need to get their hands dirty. It’s time to grab a big shovel with a sharp blade to start digging ourselves out of this nearly $14 trillion mess.

Through my role on the Appropriations Committee, I’ve already committed to working with the Budget Committee and the authorizing committees to drop our discretionary spending back down to fiscal 2008 levels — before the TARP and stimulus bills outrageously inflated the baseline of government programs. This action alone will result in $100 billion in savings and restore some sanity to annual discretionary budgeting. But a sweeping reduction in spending is the easy part.

We’ve got to go line-by-line and take an ax to programs that we simply can’t afford.

It will take toughness and resolve, but I believe there are savings to be found in every agency or department budget, however sacrosanct they may be perceived to be.

Earlier this year, for example, I proposed a modest, but targeted, $100 million reduction in Department of Homeland Security spending. Many in my own party criticized me for taking this approach. The past 12 months have obviously seen no shortage of serious terrorist activity, from the Fort Hood massacre to the failed Times Square bombing.

Our subcommittee receives regular intelligence briefings regarding the growing risk of Islamic terrorism and the sweeping drug violence along our southwest border. But my cost-cutting amendment would have had no substantive impact on our ability to keep the homeland secure. 

It would have instead reduced bloated DHS policy shops and redundant public relations offices and cut funds for duplicative programs already flush with unspent stimulus dollars and previous year carryover funds. Not surprisingly, the majority rejected my amendment on a party-line vote.

Five months ago, we couldn’t find 0.23 percent savings in a $44 billion security spending bill for nonsecurity items, but this is about to change. With a new mandate from the American people, simple but disciplined amendments like these will be given top priority. Savings must be found in the unlikeliest of places in order for our country to regain its financial footing.

As I said earlier, this isn’t simply a financial concern, but a very real security threat to our nation. Because of our enormous foreign-held debt, our ability to prepare for and respond to national emergencies, and our ability to equip, empower and maintain a top-notch military are increasingly at risk.

Leaving our children with a more dangerous world and fewer resources to protect themselves is irresponsibility of the highest degree.

To the 112th Congress, I say grab a shovel.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R) represents Kentucky’s 5th district and currently serves as the ranking member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.