This week, Washington will home in on the federal budget and our nation’s future fiscal course, with the House voting on Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan’s, R-Wis., budget. His plan responsibly addresses deficit spending and balances the budget in 10 years.
Anyone can look at the fiscal direction of this nation and see that we are heading the wrong way. The numbers are startling. Our national debt recently surpassed $16.7 trillion with federal spending topping $3.5 trillion each of the past four years. Every American’s share of this national debt exceeds $52,000. In fiscal 2012 alone, the federal government incurred a budget deficit of $1.1 trillion, making it the fourth consecutive year with a deficit of more than $1 trillion.
More than $6 trillion has been added to the federal debt since President Barack Obama took office. This is not just this president’s problem. Over the past 20 years, federal spending has grown 71 percent faster than inflation, while the federal debt has nearly tripled since fiscal 2001. The extended future doesn’t look great either. Last month, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected the gross federal debt will rise to $26.1 trillion by 2023, almost $10 trillion more than it is today.
Considering these grave fiscal challenges, you’d think that passing a responsible budget would be Washington’s top priority. Not so much. Although the Republican-led House of Representatives has routinely passed a budget for the past several years, the Senate, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hasn’t passed a budget in more than 1,400 days. And the president has only submitted his budget to Congress on time once out of his five years as president. In fact, the president is now more than 30 days behind the statutory deadline for submitting his annual budget to Congress.
This type of fiscal stewardship of our country’s taxpayer money is not only immoral, it’s also bad for the economy. The business community, especially small businesses, simply can’t operate and plan ahead under the constant cloud of skyrocketing deficits, last-minute debt deals and credit downgrade threats. Getting our spending under control and addressing our federal debt with a long-term plan will improve consumer confidence and provide a better overall economic environment for private sector growth. Small businesses have to stay within a budget, and so should Washington.
One way to rein in federal spending is to reduce duplication and overlap in federal programs where taxpayer dollars are being wasted or used inefficiently. As part of the February 2010 debt limit agreement, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., included an amendment that requires the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office to annually submit a report to Congress identifying duplicative programs across the federal government. The initial report found hundreds of examples of duplication and waste, proving that the United States could save taxpayers billions of dollars every year without cutting entitlement services.
On Wednesday, the Small Business Committee held a hearing to examine duplication and inefficiencies found among 52 federal entrepreneurial programs identified by the GAO. Specifically, we highlighted the fragmentation, overlap and duplication in entrepreneurial assistance programs across the federal government, specifically between the Small Business Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture. Entrepreneurial assistance programs can be helpful to small businesses; however, a more streamlined and efficient government would help small firms more. It’s time to get beyond the nice names of programs or their stated purpose and dig down into what these programs are actually doing and if they are really helping anyone or helping enough people to justify the cost.
The president made a joke about duplicative government in his 2011 State of the Union address. “The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in freshwater, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater,” Obama said. “And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.” Billions of dollars being spent on multiple government programs that do the same thing is no laughing matter.
Washington must start asking the question: Is this program important enough to continue borrowing $16.7 trillion from China and other nations and loading that debt on future generations? To restore confidence in our economy, we must confront our $16.7 trillion debt and reverse the pattern of deficit spending. Every federal agency in Washington must take part in this responsibility and find savings.
Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., is chairman of the House Small Business Committee.