Mr. President, as we consider this continuing resolution to fund the federal government in fiscal year 2015 and debate how best to respond to escalating violence in the Middle East, I rise to voice concern about our nation’s spending and debt. At last count our country was more than $17 trillion in debt, and that number increases every single day.
For fiscal year 2014, we expect to pay $231 billion in interest, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). And with our pattern of unsustainable spending, in 10 years we could pay close to $800 billion in interest. That’s more to our creditors than we currently spend on national defense. Our future interest payments will be even higher if interest rates go up more than CBO has predicted. The interest we pay on our debt doesn’t buy anything. A large portion of it just pays other countries for loaning us money.
The federal government consistently spends billions more than it takes in, and CBO reported in August that if current laws remain unchanged, growing budget deficits over the long-term will push the debt even higher. Yet today, we are considering legislation to continue discretionary funding on autopilot. The continuing resolution funds federal programs through December 11, 2014, at the current annual rate of $1.012 Trillion. The legislation does nothing to address the CBO projection that our ratio of public debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will reach 74 percent by the end of this fiscal year – twice that of just 7 years ago and higher than any year since 1950. We are doing nothing to reverse CBO’s projection that in 25 years, federal debt held by our constituents will exceed 100 percent of GDP. The CBO notes that this trend, which I view as perilous, cannot “be sustained indefinitely.”
I ask my Senate colleagues, what would happen if we as individuals adopted the same spending habits held by the government? I can tell you, with little doubt that over the long-term we’d face bankruptcy.
And that’s just the point. Sometimes it seems we have our heads buried in the sand. Are we in denial? Sometimes we act as if there are a different set of principles for the federal budget and the outcome of excessive personal spending. But I’m here to tell you, the same potentially dire consequences face the government that face individuals if we do not put our fiscal house in order.
Our president often frames issues in the context of how it would affect his daughters. Like the president, at times, I’m up at night with concerns about how our country’s fiscal path will affect the lives of my children and grandchildren. I worry how our debt will harm families and generations to come.
Sometimes as lawmakers we seem to act as if this problem is too big to solve, but it’s not. Understanding how to reach and maintain financial health is not rocket science. It merely requires exercising common sense and commitment. As individuals we learn to live within our means. If we spend too much, we tighten our belts, and work hard to ease our financial situation. The government should and can do the same. We cannot wait longer, it’s time for us to act.
I’ve introduced the Penny Plan as a simple and straightforward way to put our country back on the right fiscal path. It reduces discretionary and mandatory spending (less net interest payments) by one percent - or one penny from every dollar - for each year of three years until total spending has reached approximately 18 percent of GDP. Based on figures from the CBO, reducing spending this way would result in a balanced budget within three years. Total spending would then be capped at 18 percent of GDP for subsequent years, since that is the historic average level of government spending for the past several decades.
Importantly, the Penny Plan steers us away from some of the controversy and political traps we’ve seen for spending reductions. At the onset, it does not identify the specific cuts that are necessary to achieve the one percent reduction in savings. Instead, such decisions are left for us to make. Its beauty is it puts a broad plan into action.
Another step we can take to stop the autopilot spending path we’re on, passing CRs year after year, is to enact my Biennial Appropriations Act. The legislation we are considering illustrates once again why we need to pass my bill. In less than a month, the new federal fiscal year begins, yet once again, we have not passed a single of the 12 appropriations bills for the 2015 fiscal year. Our answer: another short-term continuing resolution.
This is not the way the government should operate, nor does it meet the expectations of those who sent us to Washington to represent them. It’s no wonder our approval ratings sink perpetually lower.
Congress should debate each individual appropriations bill, vote on amendments, and pass all 12 separate bills. However, the last time we passed all appropriations bills separately before the start of the fiscal year was 20 years ago in 1994.
When we do not follow regular order, we cannot adequately consider the details, including a line-by-line look at individual programs and an analysis of appropriate funding levels. Inevitably, we get the types of agreements reached in January, in which Congress was given one chance to vote on a $1.1 trillion bill.
It’s time for this chronic and debilitating pattern to stop. We’ve got to start legislating and stop deal-making. My biennial appropriations bill would allow for each of the appropriation bills to be taken up over a two-year period, with the more controversial bills taken up in a non-election year and the less controversial bills taken up in an election year. The defense appropriations bill would be taken up each year. This would allow us to scrutinize spending details and eliminate duplication and waste.
This is an idea that both parties have endorsed.
In 2000, former OMB Director and now Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told the House Rules Committee that the budget process took up so much time that there wasn’t as much time to devote to making programs better. He said: “I think biennial budgeting, if it is properly designed, could very much help alleviate these pressures.”
Let’s move our budget and appropriations process into the 21st century, providing the prudent oversight and judgment of our budget and appropriations, while at the same guaranteeing a more secure future for the generations to come.
Thank you Mr. President, I yield the floor.