- - Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Monday’s inaugural festivities offered Americans a chance to celebrate our country and the enduring success of our democracy. With the pomp and circumstance over, however, our attention returns to the challenges facing the nation. The unsolved problems of President Obama’s first term are all the more urgent now that he begins his second.

Chief among them is our out-of-control federal spending. Left unchecked, the president’s addiction to borrowed money will jeopardize the future of the next generations — of our children and grandchildren. The time to act is now. In his inaugural address, Mr. Obama said he agrees, insisting we must “reduce the size of our deficit.” Good. We can hope he means it, but we’ll believe it when we see it.

That’s because the last four years gave us little reason to believe the president cares about deficit reduction. In 2009, he promised to cut the deficit “in half by the end of my first term in office,” but he didn’t even come close. In fact, he exploded the deficit. Under his watch, the government saw four budget deficits in excess of $1 trillion — the only four times that has happened in our history.

As a result, the national debt now exceeds $16.4 trillion. Senate Democrats, apparently unconcerned about the debt’s threat to economic stability, have not passed a budget in nearly four years. The Obama administration has already announced they won’t propose a budget until well past the Feb. 4 legal deadline. In contrast, the House of Representatives has passed a budget and multiple deficit-reduction measures since Republicans won back the majority in 2010. This week, the House will authorize a measure to ensure that members of Congress will not get paid if the Senate does not pass a budget. No budget, no pay.

As Mr. Obama promises that his second term will be different from the first, Republicans can also make a promise to the American people: We will hold the president accountable on the issue of spending. Republicans have led on this issue, but thus far, Mr. Obama has gone in the opposite direction — demanding a toxic combination of higher taxes and even greater spending.

Common sense tells us that America cannot afford higher taxes — nor do we need them. We don’t have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem. By the year 2022, the national debt is projected to reach $25.4 trillion thanks to Mr. Obama’s spending binge.

Americans would be forgiven for any skepticism over Mr. Obama’s concern about the deficit. It’s hard to believe the man who exacerbated the problem is the same one who will solve it. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time rhetoric and reality didn’t match. The president once called adding $4 trillion to the national debt “unpatriotic.” In his first term, he added $5.8 trillion.

Today, an American child owes $53,200 the moment he is born. That is each American’s share of the national debt. What do we have to show for it? A “stimulus” that failed to jump-start the economy but succeeded in funneling money to now-bankrupt green-energy companies? A health care policy that failed to cut costs but injected a dose of bureaucracy into our medical care?

In Monday’s address, Mr. Obama talked about doing what’s right for the next generation — and about keeping alive the values of our Founders. I cannot imagine the brave men who declared our independence would be pleased to see America dependent on the borrowed money of foreign nations. Nor do I believe that caring for this generation requires us to rob the next.

Republicans — and all Americans — have a duty to hold the president to his word. “You and I, as citizens,” he said, “have the power to set this country’s course.” He’s right, so as citizens, we should demand our president and our government set us on a course toward fiscal responsibility and less debt. That’s the only way to save Medicare and Social Security for the long term. That’s the only way to protect our economy, our national security and our future.

You can call it accountability. You can call it being the loyal opposition. Or, based on the president’s own words, you could just call it being patriotic.

Reince Priebus is chairman of the Republican National Committee.