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The federal budget is about setting priorities for our nation. In essence, it is a plan for the future.
For four years, the United States has been without this most important of plans. And look where we’ve ended up.
The debt ceiling has been increased four times since President Barack Obama took office to accommodate the national debt’s growth from $10.6 trillion to more than $16 trillion today.
During the same time, we’ve run annual deficits of more than $1 trillion for four years in a row. While our deficits are too big to cure in a single year, the effort to responsibly address them must begin with passing an actual budget.
In 2011 and 2012, the Republican-controlled House debated and passed a budget. But the House stood alone in its efforts as the Democrat-controlled Senate declared its intention to defy the law and rejected both the House-passed budget and the president’s budget proposal, ultimately dismissing the American people and leaving our country without a blueprint for success.
At a time when leadership at the presidential level was urgently needed, Obama didn’t take the process seriously, either. In fact, he’s never passed a budget as president. Often the budget proposals he does submit to Congress are past the legal deadline to submit them and are structured in a way that demonstrates a glaring disconnect from the American sentiment of spending within our means. In a time of economic contraction and the implementation of global “austerity” efforts, Obama proposed bigger and bolder government spending. The proposals were so out of touch that in 2011 the Democrat-controlled Senate defeated the president’s budget plan 97-0; in 2012 the vote was 99-0.
The lack of a budget coupled with regular debt ceiling squabbles highlight Washington’s reckless “spend first, pay later” mentality.
Hardworking American families are fed up, and the economy has suffered as a result. The president’s inability to provide a plan that can successfully pass both the House and Senate has put in place a process that provides temporary budget blueprints that last for just a few weeks or months at a time.
This Band-Aid budgeting approach has left government paralyzed, as it is stuck in a cycle of re-creating the same fight over the same temporary measures. The result is a long-lasting sense of uncertainty that has harmed our ability to grow the economy and create jobs. Southern California defense companies can’t build for the future, schools can’t plan for the school year and health care providers wonder whom they can afford to treat — while our creditors debate the cost of our uncertainty.
In the next month, Congress will again face a need to fund the federal government and raise the debt ceiling to cover our bills. This is the right time to reconnect how much we will borrow with how much we will spend.
The debt ceiling should be raised to accommodate what we have agreed to spend. Therefore, we should pass a budget for the remainder of 2013 and with it raise the debt ceiling to match the budget.
This idea has been successful before. In fact, 15 times in the past 30 years, Congress has set a budget and simultaneously raised the debt ceiling to fit the agreed-upon borrowing.
That is why I am introducing legislation to put in place a common-sense solution that links the process of prioritizing government spending with how the government pays its bills. Unlike previous rules that only focused on the House budget process, my legislation would require both the House and the Senate to pass a budget before the debt ceiling could be acted on.
This is a starting point for a return to fiscal responsibility. It will return Congress to regular budgeting and eliminate arbitrary debt ceiling increases. Furthermore, it will keep Congress and the president within an agreed-upon spending level for the year instead of continuing down this unsustainable path of endless spending and reckless borrowing.
To do this, we will need leadership from the president. He will need to put forth a responsible budget and bring the Democrat-controlled Senate to the budget negotiating table.
Together, this can be a plan for responsible governance that will bring economic certainty to the markets and signal a renewed desire to plan and then spend.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., represents the 49th District and is chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.