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Use Common Sense to Save Cents | Commentary

From time to time, we seem briefly aware of our skyrocketing national debt, but usually we forget we’ve been on the largest spending spree in American history. And without a strong economy to help generate tax revenues to pay the bills, our national debt has grown by trillions of dollars in only a few short years.

Though Congress attempted to scale back our spending somewhat, the reality is our intermittent awareness has not yet helped us to truly solve our spending problem. We only delayed it. Add to that Congress’ recent pattern of going into budget autopilot, passing continuing resolutions year after year, and it’s clear we continue to heap trouble on our heads and the heads of future Americans whether we pay attention to it or not.

For fiscal 2014, the government expects to add about $486 billion to our debt, according to recent estimates by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. And though America’s budget deficit might be lower than its $1.4 trillion peak in 2009, it means we are still charging more than $15,000 a second to our nation’s credit card with no plan to pay it off. With that kind of money, we could fill up every gas tank in America for a whole year.

Deficit spending is still running rampant, but legislators act as if setting a course for our nation’s financial health isn’t an immediate concern. American families don’t have that luxury. They can’t rack up debts then just raise their own credit limit. The government should have to live the same way.

That’s why I’ve introduced my Penny Plan and another bill to require Congress to budget over a two-year period. Both work together to rein in out-of-control spending and reform our broken budget and appropriations process.

Under the Penny Plan, we could balance the budget in just three years by cutting one penny from every dollar the government spends, putting our country back on the fiscal path to prosperity. No fudging numbers, no smoke-and-mirrors accounting — it’s that easy.

Also known as the One Percent Spending Reduction Act, the Penny Plan doesn’t mandate any specific cuts. Congress would have the authority to make targeted cuts and focus on the worst first, but would be required to meet the 1 percent overall cut. When a balanced budget is achieved, the bill would place a cap on total spending each year at 18 percent of gross domestic product.

Over a 10-year budget window, the bill would cut spending by about $7.6 trillion. Living with 1 percent less is a small price to pay in order to help bring this country back from the brink of catastrophic fiscal failure. We all will need to sacrifice something. The longer we wait, the more it will be.

When the Penny Plan is combined with my Biennial Appropriations Act, which would reform our budget process, we could reap even more savings.

The biennial appropriations bill would allow for each of the 12 appropriations bills to be taken up over a two-year period, with the more controversial bills taken up in a non-election year and the less controversial bills taken up in an election year. The defense appropriations bill would be taken up each year.

This plan would give Congress more time to adequately consider budget details, including a line-by-line look at individual programs and an analysis of appropriate funding levels. The bill has bipartisan support and could help avoid future fights over spending and prevent the massive annualized $1 trillion spending bills on which Congress has come to rely.

Our national debt now exceeds $17 trillion. Our share of public debt compared to the size of our economy is the highest it has been in more than 60 years, according to the CBO. Shouldering this much debt does not come without its own costs. Along with creating uncertainty and drag on economic growth, there is the added measureable economic cost associated with paying hundreds of billions of dollars on our interest, which is expected to triple over the next 10 years from $231 billion to almost $800 billion.

It’s time for us to put our fiscal house in order. We need to stop ignoring or disguising the risks and dangers. The Penny Plan and Biennial Appropriations Act are simple, no-nonsense plans that every citizen can understand without becoming an inside-the-beltway policy wonk.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel if we are willing to move toward it. I’ve invited every senator to join the Penny Plan and the Biennial Appropriations Act to help move our country along on the path to restore a safe, secure future for our children and grandchildren and help to ensure America’s economic vibrancy.

Sen. Michael B. Enzi is a Republican from Wyoming.

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