Democrats’ course for fiscal 2010: spending more than we can afford

Our nation is in a serious fiscal crisis. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs. More have had their hours or pay scaled back. Our markets are struggling, our investments have lost value, and our financial status in the world has dimmed.

So far, Congress’s answer to this crisis has been to pump more and more money into federal programs, in the hopes of spurring economic recovery. This has resulted in the largest federal budget deficit ever and has yet to produce meaningful economic results.

As the fiscal 2010 appropriations process begins, it is apparent that the administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress are dead-set on spending even more taxpayer money without regard for our current financial situation — proposing double-digit increases in almost every area of government and ignoring the urgent need to find savings and provide sustainable and responsible levels of spending.

According to the Department of Commerce, U.S. government receipts have shrunk about 8 percent since the end of 2007. This is the equivalent of an average U.S. household with a yearly income of $50,000 suddenly being cut by $4,000 a year — or about $333 a month. For many families, that is a car payment, a good chunk of a rent or mortgage payment, or the household grocery bill.

During the same time, government expenditures have increased about 6.5 percent. For this average family, a 6 percent increase would mean an additional $250 in spending every month.  By the end of the year, this family will have brought in $4,000 less and spent $3,000 more than the previous year — putting them in $7,000 total debt, not including interest.

Most families in this situation would figure out a way to cut back on expenses — putting off big purchases like cars and appliances, trimming extra household expenses, and forgoing summer vacation trips.

However, Democratic leaders in Congress and the administration are taking the opposite approach. Instead of cutting back, they are continuing to engage in a record-setting, taxpayer-funded spending spree.

At the beginning of this year, the Democratic leadership in Congress ushered through an “omnibus” spending bill that represented a 9 percent increase over last year. Less than a month later, they forced the approval of a $787 billion “stimulus” bill.

The budget resolution passed by the House this spring increases non-defense, discretionary spending by about 12 percent. Add this to the “stimulus” spending and we’ll be in the hole by more than $1.3 trillion dollars — not including other debt — by the end of next year.

To put this in perspective, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that “if you started the day Jesus Christ was born and spent $1 million every day since then, you still wouldn’t have spent $1 trillion.” Paying off $1.3 trillion, even without interest, would require a payment of $4,240 from every man, woman and child in the United States.

And what are we buying with these hundreds of billions? Simply put, we are buying more government — often with little regard for need, justification or prioritization.

For example, since 2007, funding for energy and water programs has increased by almost $60 billion — or 183 percent. Labor, health, and human services spending has increased by $135 billion, or 93 percent. Agriculture programs have increased by 125 percent, transportation and housing programs have increased by 146 percent, Interior Department programs have increased by 42 percent — and on and on. All in all, since the Democrats took control of Congress, non-defense discretionary spending has increased by a total of about 85 percent.

While some of these funds may be justified, increases of this size and scope are unnecessary and unsustainable. It is both irresponsible and shortsighted to provide massive, blanket escalations without the means to pay for them and without adequate and fully vetted reasons for why they’re needed and why they’re needed now.

To make matters worse, funding these discretionary programs will be at the expense of other, more important priorities — such as our national security and defense.

While the Democrat majority is providing double-digit increases this year in domestic and international discretionary spending, defense spending is set to receive less than a 4 percent increase — which is barely in line with inflation. At a time when we are continuing to ward off threats to our homeland and terrorist attacks around the world, we cannot afford to place our national security needs on the back burner, giving our enemies the upper hand. We must re-prioritize our spending to focus on our security, while limiting spending in other areas.

Just this month, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress there must be an immediate strategy to address record budget deficits or we risk long-term damage to the economy. If this Congress does not act soon to achieve a more responsible and fiscally sound level of spending, it will be to our national peril.

There is no reason why we can’t scale back the spending proposed in the president’s budget or in the budget resolution. We can provide the necessary funding for real national priorities like defense, hold other discretionary programs to inflationary levels, and use the balance to close our gaping deficit hole.

We have the tools and the ability to help solve our financial problems and trim our deficit in this year’s appropriations process. It will take time, tough decision-making, and bi-partisan cooperation, but it can and must be done.

Lewis is ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.