Decades of overspending, combined with the dramatic stimulus spending spree of the 111th Congress, had pushed Americans to the brink.
In November, after listening to the American people, the 87 new Republicans who were elected to the House put the business-as-usual crowd in Washington on notice to brace for impact.
Like many freshmen, I ran on a platform of cutting spending and making tough choices to restore the fiscal prosperity of our nation. We've been told that the cuts are too hard, that Washington can't change and that government just can't live within its means.
But experience tells us otherwise. Most of us have had to make ends meet in a small business or had to operate an office or organization on less money. We haven't had the luxury of spending whatever we want whenever we want without consequence.
As one of the youngest and newest members of the Appropriations Committee, I've been blessed with the unique and historic opportunity to help lead the charge to repair our broken finances. We must be vigilant in our efforts to stand up for the Americans who sent us here and bestowed their hope and faith in us. We must be smart, reasoned and visionary in our approach.
In December 2008, as a Representative in the Kansas Legislature, I was thrust into a similar predicament. The newly elected Speaker had tapped me to lead the House Appropriations Committee at a time when we were also facing record deficits. With state revenues at record lows — and, unlike the federal government, a constitutional requirement to balance the budget — we had two choices: cut spending or raise taxes.
Although the reduction decisions were difficult, the answer to the problem was clear. In the thick of a bleak economy, we as a government could not ask taxpayers to contribute more so that our government could continue to grow. If Kansans were being forced to tighten their belts and make tough choices in their family budgets, their government needed to do the same.
In our quest to find reductions in state spending, we approached the problem not just by making cuts but by making rescissions that encouraged state agencies to become more efficient and to produce good services for less money. At first, our department heads were adamant that there were no savings to be found in state government. We were told that any cuts to the state budget would be "devastating" and would "destroy" state services as we knew them.
As we sought to return spending in Kansas to those levels of just a few years previous, it became obvious that the overblown statements of public spending advocates were not based in reality. What we found was, when forced with the necessity of fiscal constraint, Cabinet secretaries and school superintendents alike could find ways to reduce costs, eliminate waste and find savings that were not readily apparent.
For decades, Washington has avoided the necessity of fiscal constraint and Congress has allowed recipients of federal tax dollars to claim that reductions in spending would create untold "devastation" and consequences too shocking to absorb.
As Washington borrows $4 billion every day, we now know that the real "devastation" to the American people isn't the proposed cuts to curb federal spending but rather the untold consequences of runaway budgets and a refusal of Congress to make tough choices.
As we go line by line through the trillions of dollars in federal spending working to find reductions, we will endeavor not only to cut spending but also to find ways to make rescissions that produce better services on less resources. Just as in Kansas, we will hear unbelievable rhetoric and overblown exaggerations that returning to spending levels of just a few short years ago will destroy life as we know it.
Yet, we all know better. For too long Washington has operated without fiscal constraints and decades of waste and malaise have set in. As the new Republican majority, led by a strong freshman class, begins to impose fiscal constraint on the bureaucracy in Washington, we will see the necessity of impending reductions cause Cabinet secretaries and department heads alike to ultimately locate wasteful programs, expose unneeded positions and find savings that were not readily apparent.
The bureaucracy won't concede this battle easily. But, in the end, the effort to cut spending not only will lead to future prosperity and economic strength for the American people by reducing the pressures to increase taxes but will tackle years of neglect and waste in government. The result will be a more lean and efficient government that will produce a better service for less resources.
Rep. Kevin Yoder is one of three freshman Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee. He was elected last fall with 58 percent to succeed Democrat Dennis Moore, who retired, in Kansas' 3rd district (Kansas City region — Overland Park, eastern Lawrence).