Opinion By Senator Cynthia Lummis
Here in Wyoming, we understand the importance of living within our means. We don’t spend more than we have, we save when times are good, and we take pride in not saddling future generations with debt.
This commitment to fiscal responsibility is embedded in Wyoming and our state constitution which requires a balanced budget. Though delivering a balanced budget is no easy task, Wyoming lawmakers have consistently been good stewards of our tax dollars and even managed to accumulate a robust “rainy day fund” that helps sustain critical government services when we face tough economic times. Achieving this means, at times, making hard decisions about what to fund and what to put off to another year.
Unfortunately, the United States Congress does not have the same constitutional framework around its budget process. Nor does it seem to have the same political will to get our fiscal house in order. So instead of having a rainy-day fund, the U.S. government is in debt $28 trillion.
Congress passes bill after bill with price tags in the trillions and we don’t make plans to pay for them. Too often, elected officials kick the can down the road hoping to keep their seat for another term. When I was in the House of Representatives, I balked at our $14 trillion in debt. I voted against President Obama’s budgets because of the high level of spending. Those proposals look measured compared to what we’re churning out now.
You know things are bad when former Obama officials start raising the alarm about our national debt and the inflation risks it poses. In an editorial in the New York Times on March 5, Steven Rattner, a counselor to the Treasury Secretary in the Obama Administration, said, “Wasting precious dollars that could be better spent can’t possibly be worth the risk of igniting high inflation again.” His concern was in reference to the last COVID package passed by Congress. Mr. Rattner, I agree with you completely.
To be clear, the national debt is not an abstract worry without real world consequences. Our staggering national debt has direct and severe consequences for our economy, household incomes and savings, policy decisions, national security and ultimately American exceptionalism. At the rate we are going, the United States could soon spend more money on interest on the national debt than it does on defense.
Serious work is needed to pull ourselves out of the pit. We can’t stick to the status quo and expect a different outcome. We need real bipartisan solutions to our debt problem. That’s why I introduced the Sustainable Budget Act. This bill will create a commission that will work on bipartisan, realistic solutions to our budget crisis. In 2010, the Simpson-Bowles Commission worked on a plan to cut the debt by $4 trillion. At this point, we need a plan far more ambitious than the Simpson-Bowles plan to make a difference.
The commission I’m proposing would be comprised of individuals of both parties nominated by the President, the Speaker of the House, the House Minority Leader, and the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders. They’d be tasked with creating a bipartisan plan to reduce the deficit and balance the federal budget within 10 years. The solution must be bipartisan, and must have the approval of 2/3 of the committee.
If the Commission succeeds, it’s dismantled. If they fail, they’re dismantled and we’ll try something else. We’re not creating another government commission that gets paid a lot of money to do a lot of nothing. However, we’re also not creating a group to pat Congress on the back for grandstanding and platitudes. It’s our job as elected representatives to find solutions and make significant changes to the way we spend taxpayer dollars.
The time to take decisive, bipartisan action and change our trajectory is long overdue. Congress needs to take a page out of Wyoming’s book and make some tough choices to ensure that our grandchildren get to enjoy the prosperity and financial security with which we have been blessed.
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