My tenure in Congress (2002-2007) included service on the U.S. House Committee on the Budget (www.budget.house.gov). As I’ve watched my former committee colleagues struggle with our country’s pending Fiscal Year 2010 budget (our national budget for the year starting October 1, 2009), I’ve thought again that, in government as elsewhere, hard decisions avoided are hard decisions worsened.
When I was elected to Congress, our national budget deficit (the difference between government income and expenses in any fiscal year) was around $300 billion and our national debt (the total amount owed by our government) around $6 trillion. As the Obama administration took office, the deficit for current FY ’09 was projected at $1.3 trillion and total debt was closing in on $11 trillion. The administration’s current FY ’10 budget proposal projects huge annual deficits for several fiscal years to come, meaning further trillion dollar increases in national debt.
Why? Clearly, the estimated $2 trillion total bill to prop up our economy has a huge effect. And our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost us dearly in many ways, including financially.
But, over the past decade, it’s been way deeper than all that. It’s been about our national failure to face the same budget realities and make the same hard choices that each of us must make in our everyday personal and business finances.
We’ve been told too often by our leaders that we can both reduce revenues and increase spending and the budget will take care of itself. It hasn’t, and we’ve ended up mortgaging our children’s future by trillions more in just a few short years.
I believe that government assistance and intervention in these difficult times is appropriate and unavoidable. I agree that the alternative would be far worse, and that our damaged economy will recover.
But I also believe in realism about the hard decisions it will take to get there and, more important, the even harder decisions we will face as a result of the actions we must take to save our economy and jobs. There is, finally, in my old Budget Committee, a sense of that reality in its debates on the limits of spending increases and tax cuts, and on the reinstitution of PAYGO (pay-as-you-go, meaning the simple idea that any tax reduction or spending increase must be at least offset by a corresponding spending reduction or tax increase).
I believe as well in the old lesson of preparing when you can for the rainy days when they come. We haven’t heeded that lesson, at any level of government, and as a result the fix today is far more difficult. But that doesn’t mean we can’t start anew to face today’s choices in order to prepare for tomorrow’s challenges.