- - Monday, November 4, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

America has recently been dragged through yet another ugly fight over the debt ceiling. The latest resolution merely postpones the battle until February, ensuring that once again Congress and President Obama will struggle to reach agreement over the terms by which America will be allowed to go deeper into debt. These repeated debt-ceiling fights are increasingly nasty, partisan and disruptive. In addition, they are totally unnecessary. If the government could learn to live within its means, we would never have to raise the debt ceiling again. The key to ending the fight over the debt ceiling is a balanced budget.

We can achieve the goal of a balanced budget from several directions. First is the obvious one: Stop spending more than we take in each year. In all the sensationalism and focus on individual personalities surrounding the latest debt-ceiling fight, the reason for these arguments has been lost. The debt-ceiling battles are not about the Tea Party, sequestration or even Obamacare. It’s about the $17 trillion and growing national debt that has placed our children and grandchildren hopelessly in hock to the Chinese, Japanese, Russians and, increasingly, our own Federal Reserve.

America has not balanced its budget in 12 years. Not since the earliest days of this century has the government spent less than it took in. In fact, since 2002, the federal government has tallied up more debt than in the entire previous 200 years of our existence as a country. This year alone, our government has run a $700 billion-plus deficit. Sadly, this is a vast improvement over the first two years of the Obama administration, when the country ran annual deficits of approximately $1.4 and $1.3 trillion, respectively. Yet, under the president’s own budget, the debt will grow to $26 trillion in the next nine years, unless something is done to stop it.

Let’s start by asking a fundamental question: Must the federal government continue doing everything it does? It only took a week or so during the shutdown for local and state entities to step up with plans to replace federal services. Almost magically, parks in Arizona and Utah reopened, as an example.

Vast federal forests in the West go up in smoke every year, in part because a lack of active management has left them overgrown, bug-infested, and disease-ridden. Meanwhile, local communities go broke, and poverty rates grow. It’s likely that the federal government is the only forest owner that loses money on such a valuable public asset. State and local governments already effectively and responsibly manage forests, creating jobs while protecting the environment. Why not give them a chance to do more on federal land?

Think of the jobs and revenue we could generate in America if we had more active development of energy reserves on federal lands. Consider the economic boom that’s occurring in states that have discovered gas and oil on private lands. Can you imagine what we could do as a nation if we didn’t have a federal government shutting down nearly every activity on federal lands?

When it comes to high tech, I helped lead the effort to free up more spectrum to encourage wireless-broadband development and the innovation, jobs and revenue that can come from it. Thousands of jobs and billions in revenues will flow from innovative use of federal spectrum.

There’s no telling how many jobs we could create and how much revenue we could generate if we had a clear focus and purpose, led by the federal government, not blocked by the dead hand of bureaucracy.

I’ve learned in nearly three decades in small business that while it’s important to cut costs and watch the spending, you need to grow a business into prosperity. Cutting only goes so far. We can grow our economy and reduce the deficit. According to the Joint Economic Committee in Congress, an additional one-tenth of 1 percent of economic growth would reduce budget deficits by more than $300 billion over the next decade.

Rather than simply fight over the next round of sequestration cuts, let’s get together on a pro-growth agenda for America. A long-term plan is what we need, one that puts frozen capital back to work in the American marketplace. We need a plan that gives investors certainty in matters of regulation, with consistency and common sense required on matters of enforcement. Then, watch as business plans develop.

Let’s also figure out how to protect the next generations of Americans from out-of-control federal deficit spending by enacting a constitutional amendment to balance the budget and keep it balanced.

None of us likes what we’ve just been through. Few of us are very optimistic that the new year will bring anything but a repeat of the past few weeks. Until we agree to make responsible spending choices and limit the never-ending growth of government, until the federal government stops making promises it cannot keep, and until we live within our means, we will keep having these battles. There’s no way to avoid dealing with the consequences of our poor choices.

The only way to stop fights about the debt ceiling is to balance the budget.

Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon Republican, is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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