Matheson: Both Parties Need to Address Fiscal Crisis

Posted May 26, 2010 at 6:35pm

We can no longer put off addressing the nation’s fiscal crisis. The bills are now coming due, and failure to put in place realistic budget enforcement mechanisms to cut and restrain the growth in federal spending will only make the tough, necessary decisions harder to achieve in the future.

[IMGCAP(1)]Despite the fiery political rhetoric on both sides, neither party is without blame. If we have any hope of putting our country back on a fiscally sustainable path, we are going to have to put away the talking points and come together as Republicans and Democrats to develop common-sense, middle-of-the-road solutions.

Recent reports from the Peterson-Pew Commission, Center for American Progress and the National Academy of Sciences demonstrate the need for action. Our current deficits are unsustainable and, under realistic assumptions, the level of public debt will double over the next 10 years, reaching 90 percent debt-to-gross-domestic-product in 2020. In order to finance this amount of spending, interest payments alone would total $5.6 trillion for the decade.

In an honest attempt to address this impending crisis, the Blue Dog Coalition has put forth a Blueprint for Fiscal Reform, with the aim of balancing the budget within 10 years by establishing a realistic debt-to-GDP ratio of 60 percent and implementing 15 common-sense budget reform tools.

The president and Congress took a significant step in the right direction by moving to reinstate statutory pay-as-you-go rules to restrain and control mandatory spending. However, there are additional steps that must be taken to tighten the federal purse strings.

Over the past 10 years, discretionary spending grew annually by an average of 7.5 percent, from less than $610 billion in 2000 to more than $1.2 trillion in 2009. This is an alarming trend that threatens to further cripple our economy.

Originally enacted under bipartisan agreements in the 1990s, discretionary spending caps have a proven track record of controlling spending and reducing the deficit. The Blue Dog proposal to cap federal discretionary spending would save the American taxpayers more than $400 billion by cutting nonsecurity discretionary spending by 2 percent for each of the next three years and freezing spending levels for the subsequent two years. This would force Congress to prioritize our limited resources and make the tough year-to-year decisions necessary to restore balance to the federal budget.

In addition to imposing federal spending caps, the Blue Dogs have long championed the creation of a bipartisan commission tasked with examining our nation’s long-term fiscal health. The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which recently began work, should at a minimum create the foundation for future Congressional action, reforming our budget processes where appropriate, and be accompanied by statutory fiscal controls.

The Blue Dogs have also put forth proposals that would establish deficit reduction targets and amend federal budget process laws to require that long-term obligations and liabilities be disclosed. The Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act would reduce the estimated $98 billion in improper payments, and the Budget Enforcement Legislation Tool Act would reinstate “expedited rescission,” a common-sense budget enforcement tool that has been successful in helping Members of Congress and the administration identify and eliminate wasteful and unnecessary government spending.

Failure to address our nation’s fiscal crisis not only will cripple our economy, it will have devastating consequences for future generations of Americans. Interest payments on the debt will soon crowd out other investments, and consumers and small businesses, which already face limited access to credit, could see that problem compounded by rising interest rates. Not to mention that our children and grandchildren will ultimately have to pay for today’s reckless deficit spending.

Restoring fiscal discipline to our federal government is not going to be easy, and success will require Members on both sides of the aisle to rise above partisan politics and put forth their best ideas. The problem is not a Democratic one or a Republican one; nor should the solution be.

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) is co-chairman of the House Blue Dog Coalition.