Getting our nation’s deficit and debt under control is critical for the well-being of our nation and economy. For quite some time, I have urged President Obama and Congress to reach an agreement on a balanced and comprehensive deficit reduction plan.
I favor the approach put forward in 2010 by the President's bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which was co-chaired by former Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY) and President Clinton’s former Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. The Commission proposed reducing the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years. I believe this "grand bargain" approach is our best chance to bring Republicans and Democrats together because it puts everything on the table: discretionary spending, defense spending, entitlement programs, and taxes.
As President Obama highlighted during the 2013 State of the Union address, both Democrats and Republicans have worked together over the last few years to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion through spending cuts and tax increases on high-incomes. As a result, we’re now within reach of the $4 trillion goal set by the Bowles-Simpson Commission.
And while we avoided the “fiscal cliff” at the end of 2012, we’re not out of the woods yet. There are a still a few fiscal predicaments facing our economy that Congress created for 2013, including the automatic spending cuts known as budget “sequestration”, which have already begun to take effect, the need for a new funding resolution to prevent a government shutdown, and the question of addressing the federal debt ceiling. We’ve got to stop governing this way, put partisanship aside, and focus on making the necessary but tough choices that will help us get our fiscal house in order. In the long run, I believe we have to do three things to get America back on the right fiscal track and stabilize our debt as a percentage of GDP.
- Federal revenues should be raised to approach levels that prevailed during the second half of the Clinton administration, when we balanced four budgets in a row and our country enjoyed surpluses as far as the eye could see. During that period of historic economic growth federal revenues comprised 20 to 21 percent of GDP, rather than the 15 to 16 percent of GDP that revenues comprise today. We took a modest step in that direction at the end of the year, but more needs to be done to reform our tax code and bring in more revenue to reduce our deficits.
- We need to reform and improve our entitlement programs, such as Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, in a way that’s humane, saves money, and preserves these programs for future generations.
- We should focus like a laser on all federal programs – from defense to transportation to agriculture – and ask ourselves a simple but critical question: “How can we get better results for less money in everything we do?”
Congress and the Administration must work together and have the courage to make the right decisions, not necessarily the easy or the popular decisions, to get our country back on the path of fiscal responsibility and prosperity. I remain hopeful that my colleagues and I can work with the Obama Administration to implement a meaningful deficit reduction plan in the 113th Congress.