Economy & Budget

A missed opportunity to lead

It’s often said that budgets are a statement of our priorities and values. While this is true, a budget is so much more. Ultimately, a budget should be a demonstration of leadership and illustrate the path that America will be headed down.     

Right now, our nation needs a budget with leadership. We’ve run three successive $1 trillion dollar-plus deficits and a fourth is projected, seen our nation’s debt as a share of the economy rise from 64 percent in 2006 to almost 100 percent today and watched our nation’s credit rating downgraded for the first time in history. Instead of reforming unsustainable programs like Medicare and Social Security, we added a new entitlement program in the form of President Obama’s health care law that will only add to the trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities already facing taxpayers. No nation can prosper carrying the mountain of debt our current fiscal path will have us carry. The status quo has us firmly on a path to decline. 

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Mortgage settlement: One step forward, one step back

With great fanfare, the Obama administration and the state attorneys general recently announced the completion of what’s being touted as the largest consumer financial protection settlement in U.S. history. The country’s top mortgage servicers agreed to provide as much as $25 billion to help some past and current homeowners because banks regularly submitted foreclosure documents that were not properly reviewed or notarized (aka robo-signing).
 
At first blush, the settlement would appear to present an ideal opportunity for the market — paralyzed in part by the uncertainty over potential legal liabilities — to move ahead towards a much-needed housing recovery. In that regard, its completion was way overdue. In fact, by some accounts the statute of limitations on some of the abuses either had already or was about to run out.
 
While some will surely argue that the banks should be squeezed for more, the deal does provide some meaningful assistance for distressed and underwater homeowners. Mortgage servicers also agreed to a new set of standards to govern how they must work with homeowners moving forward who are at risk of foreclosure. It’s hard to take issue with a well-intentioned, bipartisan agreement between the legal authorities and the banks over admittedly shoddy mortgage paperwork.

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It is time for vision again

I can still remember my first meeting in the Science, Space, and Technology Committee.  At the time, I was new to the endeavor (as a freshman member that fact was unavoidable), and I was trying to feel my way through the particularities of the committee. There I was – a long-time teacher and school principal, entering a chamber where over the next two years I would be responsible for contributing to discussions forming our nation’s science and space policy during uncertain economic times.

I felt I had a grasp of the difficulties that lay ahead of not only me, but for the committee as a whole, entering the new fiscal realities of a recession. I feared for the funding of the scientific field – particularly at the government level. It was already apparent prior to my arrival that the United States’ engagement in space was about to shift dramatically, and I could only hope that my experiences exciting schoolchildren about the wonders of science and the discoveries great explorers were enough to prepare me for the challenges in store.

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Our economy deserves dynamic solutions

As a freshman representative I remain hopeful and optimistic. Despite the discord so widely reported over the last year, I went into the president’s State of the Union address hoping that he would step up and propose fresh, new ideas to grow our economy and help our unemployed friends and neighbors find jobs. And I was optimistic that he would put party line politics aside and work to unite us as one people – not divide us for political gain.

Instead, unfortunately, I heard more of the same.

Neither party is without fault. We aren’t in today’s debt and jobs crisis because of one party’s actions. So we must work together to get our fiscal house in order, promote economic growth, and save the American dream for future generations.

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The budget should reflect our values

Many in Congress believe, as I do, that the budget is a statement of national values and should reflect where we stand as a people. Of course, composing a document to encompass the values of our diverse nation can be difficult. We come from different backgrounds and have unique needs and expectations from our government. 

But despite our differences, our truly American values remain as clear today as at our founding. Caring for families, seniors, the poor, sick and disabled. Promoting business and expanding educational opportunities to help our neighbors find work. Maintaining public safety and national security.

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Washington has thrown in the towel

When traveling around the 3rd district of Kansas visiting with constituents, I’m often asked what is most surprising to me as a new member of Congress. With a palate of options from which to choose, the answers vary from the hyper-partisanship clogging up the halls of Congress to the local driving skills in bad weather clogging up the streets of Washington. Whether it’s a gridlock or a snowflake, Washington is stuck.
 
This would all be funny if it wasn’t so serious. Every day we pile a new layer of debt on our next generation. This isn’t your garden variety run of the mill debt. This is serious, crushing suffocation of the next generation. Spend an afternoon watching the debt clock tick closer and closer to bankruptcy and you wonder how it ever could have become this bad.

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Energy and Infrastructure Act: Competitive and fiscally responsible

I hope to see the president end his policy of “tax, borrow, spend” when he introduces his FY 2013 budget. Although it seems unlikely, the president should have listened to the American people when putting together his budget. They understand we cannot continue to max out our credit cards. We cannot continue to mortgage our children’s and grandchildren’s futures. We cannot continue to expect the federal government to solve our problems by simply throwing more money at them.

We passed a budget in the House this year that put our country back on the path to fiscal solvency; unfortunately the Senate did not act on it. I co-sponsored a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, and a majority of the House voted for it but not the required two-thirds. The president also directed a commission on fiscal responsibility to present a plan to reduce our debt and deficits, but he did not listen to their proposals.

There are many ideas for the president to pull from and listen to as he presents his budget for the next fiscal year, but history has shown us those ideas will probably fall on deaf ears.

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Protecting the transportation needs in our communities

With President Obama’s budget scheduled to be released on Monday, I am eager to hear his views of our nation’s priorities. As Congress moves forward with the budget process, it is important to focus on the needs of our communities and constituents. While unemployment has dropped to the lowest rate since 2009, we must create a budget that rides on the coattails of this success by continuing to fuel employment opportunities. There is no better way to create jobs than through infrastructure investment which also improves economic opportunities in surrounding communities.

As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and a representative from the most densely populated state in the nation, I am most concerned about providing adequate funding for transportation and infrastructure expansion. Transportation affects every facet of everyone’s life, and it is important that our nation improve and strengthen the safety, reliability, and efficiency of our transportation system. Next week, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on H.R. 7, the America Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act. While a multiyear surface transportation authorization bill is sorely needed, H.R. 7 is not the comprehensive solution that our country needs.  H.R. 7 blatantly ignores the transportation needs of Americans by cutting funding and eliminating jobs. Sufficient funding for mass transit, Amtrak, and competitive grants such as the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program are necessary to meet the transportation needs of our constituents.

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Entitlement reform: now is the time

It's a sign of the magnitude of our fiscal challenges that even the good news is bad news in the latest Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report.  The only glimmer of progress in CBO's 2012 Budget and Outlook is that  discretionary spending is finally on the decline.  Thanks to the perseverance of Republicans, backed by an American public thoroughly fed up with wasteful Washington spending, projected discretionary spending will drop to just 5.6 percent of GDP by 2022.  Our efforts to secure significant spending cuts in both the FY2011 and FY2012 budgets, as well as the Budget Control Act, will result in the lowest level of discretionary spending in 50 years.

Although this is a substantial achievement, it also serves to highlight the enormity of the debt -- and how little of it can be addressed through discretionary spending cuts alone.  In testimony before the House Budget Committee last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stated succinctly that Congress "could cut discretionary spending pretty close to zero and not solve the problem in the long term."  Bernanke admitted that tax increases advocated by President Obama will not do the job either -- even if combined with major spending reductions.

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'Do-Nothing' Congress could do damage or do good

It’s February, Congress recently re-convened, and the brawling has already begun. Fresh off a recess marked by angry debate over the appointment of Richard Cordray and the cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline, it seems highly unlikely that Congress can summon the will or skill to take on any major policy challenges. The realistic best hope for 2012 is that Congress will tread water, extending short term fixes to ongoing problems they can’t avoid because deadlines loom. They’ll extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance. They’ll fund the government bit by bit while continuing their perennial arguments over taxes, health care and the size of government. And they’ll reach November having avoided inflicting damage upon themselves or the country that lingers past Election Day.

In this “positive” scenario, the label “do-nothing” Congress will be fairly applied. Still, what Congress is doing while it’s “doing nothing” actually matters a great deal. There is a rhythm to Congress. Every election year it seizes – accomplishing little as each party plays defense, trying to inflict damage on the other while taking no risks itself. Then, when the votes are tallied and a president settles into the Oval Office with four years of job security and a fresh Congress, he faces great expectations for early action. The first 100 days are in fact pivotal. Voter expectations are high and legislators fresh off their campaigns are ripe with ideas.

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