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Minnick: America is not too big to fail

by U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick
| June 18, 2010 9:00 PM

We are about to learn that deficits do matter.

Nine years ago the budget was balanced. We then went to war and failed to pay for it.

Next came the worst recession of our lifetimes and an $800 billion Stimulus Bill, none of it paid for and most of it borrowed from overseas.

In 2000 our national debt was $5 trillion. Today it is $13 trillion - in eight more years it will eclipse $20 trillion and approach 100 percent of the nation's total economic output. Add in the unfunded obligations of Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs and the national debt already exceeds $200,000 for every man, woman and child in this country.

As the ongoing Greek debt crisis in Europe demonstrates, indebtedness at these levels will eventually cause lenders to lose confidence in our ability to manage our fiscal affairs and ability to repay our debts. Chinese President Hu Jintao has twice warned us this day is near. Investors fleeing the dollar would trigger devastating economic consequences, including sharply higher prices for imported goods, rising interest rates, more unemployment and renewed recession. Longer term consequences include surging inflation as we resort to printing money to pay off our creditors, a dramatic decline in our strength as a nation and our kids being the first generation of American children to grow up with lower living standards than their parents.

Simply put, our way of life is in danger, and failure to address our runaway deficit spending is the greatest systemic risk to our nation's future.

Addressing it requires an end to the hyper-partisanship that poisoned the health care debate. As the former CEO of a global company who is now serving in Congress, I believe strongly that both parties need to work together and take a business approach to managing our nation's financial crisis.

Start by ending the addiction to earmarks. Earlier this year I introduced legislation to ban them all, because it is unacceptable for Members of Congress to talk about fiscal responsibility while simultaneously requesting 10,000 special-interest earmarks costing more than $16 billion per year.

I have also introduced The Belt Act, a constitutional version of the Presidential Line Item Veto struck down by the Supreme Court in the 1990s. This legislation would allow the president to prod Congress to zero out individual pork barrel projects tucked into larger appropriations bills. If any spending proposal cannot on its own merits muster a majority vote in Congress, taxpayers shouldn't be stuck with the tab. The president has endorsed my proposal, which has been incorporated into a deficit reduction bill I hope we can get Congress to adopt it yet this summer.

We must also support the new debt commission, tasked with making the painful trade-offs required to reform federal entitlement programs and assure that future outlays match future cash inflows. The next Congress must muster the courage to give the commission's recommendations an up-or-down vote.

As the economy continues to show signs of recovery, we must cut spending and seek to balance our budget. These decisions will be painful and require meaningful participation from both political parties. Future budgets should include deep spending cuts, and no options should be off the table.

Finally, Congress should adopt, and the states should ratify, a balanced-budget Constitutional amendment. Its provisions could only be waived in times of depression, war or national emergency on recommendation of the president and with the concurrence of both the House and the Senate. I have co-sponsored this essential legislation.

This is strong medicine, but the party is over. The federal government requires the same fiscal discipline that we expect from state and local governments and for our own family finances. It's also time to set aside the petty political posturing that has characterized this debate for far too long. Only by so doing can we give our children and grandchildren the same opportunities we have had to live our lives in the world's strongest and most prosperous nation.

We owe them no less.

U.S. Rep Walt Minnick represents Idaho's first congressional district.

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