Our broken fiscal policy will demand tough choices

It’s been a big couple of months. I was truly honored last week to learn that I’ll be serving Arizona in the U.S. Senate. But I was overjoyed last month to learn with my wife, Cheryl, of the birth of our first grandchild. While Aiden Jeffry Flake was fortunate enough to be born in the greatest country in the world, he was also born already owing more than $50,000 — his share of our country’s national debt.

In the months leading up to Nov. 6, voters in Arizona identified our nation’s broken fiscal policy as the utmost threat before us. I couldn’t agree more: There is no issue as important or pressing as the fiscal crisis created by our $16 trillion national debt. It has a trickle-down effect all its own, as being deeply in the red affects every government policy and program, from the economy to jobs to national defense to Medicare and Social Security. Given the high stakes associated with our debt and deficit, I plan to focus a significant portion of my efforts in my first Senate term toward reining in federal spending, balancing the budget and creating a tax and regulatory environment that encourages job growth.

The first hurdle to clear toward fiscal responsibility is dealing with the impending sequestration. When former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen said last year that our debt is the “single biggest threat to our national security,” it’s a fair assumption to say that he wasn’t advocating for draconian cuts to defense programs as a means of curbing the debt. We cannot allow our defense — our safety — to take the hit for what amounts to more than a decade’s worth of irresponsible spending habits championed by Congress. Instead, we’ve got to give federal spending a haircut across the board and reform the real driver of our monstrous debt: entitlement programs that are completely unsustainable in the long term.

It is imperative that Congress begin to take this problem seriously by making reforms to programs like Social Security and Medicare. If Congress acts now, these reforms can be implemented without affecting those currently receiving benefits or nearing retirement. We’ve seen in Europe what can happen when these issues are ignored for too long.

Spending cuts and entitlement reform alone won’t allow us to climb out of debt — the companion to fiscal responsibility has to be economic growth. To create a tax and regulatory environment conducive to job creation, tax reform that lowers rates and broadens the base is needed, and the repeal of onerous and excessive federal regulations that punish private-sector job creators are musts.

These past four years the federal government has been an impediment to economic growth and job creation. Congress’s inability to complete some of its most basic functions has no doubt been the largest impediment. It has been more than three years since the Senate passed a budget, and when the Senate fails to pass a budget and thus set spending priorities, it puts the power to set policy and promulgate regulations in federal bureaucrats’ hands. Needless to say, it’s a bad way to run a government.

Arizona has certainly felt the effects of Congress shirking its basic duties. We’ve had to contend with regulations both finalized and threatened on everything from imperceptible regional haze generated by coal-fired power plants to a requirement of permanent lifts on every pool and spa at Arizona hotels and resorts. With a reprieve from cumbersome federal regulations and some certainty on taxes going forward, the private sector can create and expand the jobs that will grow the economy.

Digging the country out of our fiscal hole isn’t going to be easy or pleasant. During my time in Congress, I’ve tried to stand up for fiscal discipline even when my own party was doing the overspending. This I plan to continue in the Senate. There is nothing more this country needs right now than for somebody to stand up, regardless of which party is in charge.

Despite the outcome of this election, the problems we face haven’t changed. And neither have the solutions. I will make the tough decisions that will put our country back on the path to prosperity. Some of the votes I plan to take in the Senate will not be popular, I know. But I promise that each and every vote will have Arizona’s — and our country’s — interests in mind.

Those who came before us made sacrifices and endured hardship to be able to give us all the opportunity to succeed and prosper. I am hopeful that my grandson will someday be able to say the same thing about us.

Flake, a Republican congressman, is the senator-elect from Arizona.