Tackling national debt

The spirit of American Exceptionalism that our country’s founding fathers embraced was built on the fundamental pillars of political liberty, economic freedom and moral responsibility. Today, I am concerned that one of those pillars is at risk: our economic freedom.

America’s national debt is increasing with every passing day. In the 232 years of American history until 2008, through 43 American presidents, our country accumulated $6.3 trillion in publicly held debt. Under the Obama administration, that number is projected to double in five years and triple in 10 years.

To break these numbers down to a more personal level, for every child in America under 18 when President Obama took office, their share of that debt was $84,000. Now it is $119,000 per child. By the end of 2016, it would be $196,000.

We are witnessing a massive increase in the amount of borrowing, the amount of spending, the amount of debt and the growth of government in Washington, D.C. We need to start tackling this debt, and we need to start doing it now. 

Toward that goal, I have introduced a three-part plan—the Deficit Reduction and Budget Reform Act—that addresses what I think are the biggest contributing factors to this broken system.

First and foremost, we must take control of the government’s runaway spending. The single most important thing Congress can do this year is to clearly state to the American people that our problem is not that taxes are too low, it is that our spending is too high. The only way to fix that problem is to cut spending.  

My bill would impose a 10-year spending freeze that would cap the federal government’s non-national security discretionary spending at the level it was at in fiscal year 2008 adjusted for inflation. Since 2008, that spending has increased by 21 percent. All of this comes at a time when inflation in the overall economy has only grown at about 3.5 percent. Such a discretionary spending freeze would save about $450 billion. And we put some teeth in that by requiring a two-thirds supermajority of the Congress to waive that freeze. 

Additionally, we would reclaim any stimulus money that has not been used or obligated. Those, too, are dollars that ought to be put toward paying down the federal debt. 

Second, because spending restraint will not last long without some real reform of our broken and dysfunctional budget process, my plan includes several steps to change the way Washington spends money.

One such change includes making the budget a binding joint resolution of the Congress that the president would sign into law. A binding joint resolution would give the budget the force of law, which it currently lacks. 

Under my plan, Congress would transition to a biennial budget cycle. During the odd-numbered years Congress, would create a budget and pass appropriations bills. Then in even numbered years, instead of spending money in the run-up to the election, Congress would be required to look at ways to save money by doing oversight to see which programs are working and which are not.

Another reform I am proposing would be to change the pay-as-you-go budgetary rules to eliminate the phony accounting and the gimmicks that have been used time and time again to pretend massive amounts of spending were actually “paid for.” 

We would also create a legislative line-item veto, which is something that governors of most states have, to get rid of wasteful spending. 

Finally, the third part of my plan would create a joint standing committee of the Congress, the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction. This committee would be composed of members of both houses of Congress, and both political parties, and its sole purpose would be to find and eliminate wasteful government spending. 

The committee would be required to put forward a bill to cut the deficit by at least 10 percent, at a minimum, every budget cycle. And in so doing, the committee would have to achieve these savings by cutting spending rather than raising taxes. Their bill would then receive expedited consideration in both chambers of Congress. We have 26 committees and subcommittees in Congress dedicated to spending tax dollars, and I believe we ought to have at least one dedicated to saving tax dollars.

This plan is not a silver bullet that will fix our staggering national debt overnight, but it is a meaningful start to restoring the fundamental pillars our founding fathers embraced. The threat America faces from our government’s dangerous spending is so great that we simply must make a real start at tackling this problem.

Sen. Thune is a member of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee