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Spending control cannot be achieved solely by reforming the budget process (though it does need reform), or through some mystical “grand bargain” or “budget summit.” It will require a sustained effort, over several years, at realigning government priorities, discarding those that are not true requirements of the national government, and fundamentally restructuring government programs, especially the entitlements.

Those who shudder at the thought of such “austerity” should remember that government does not create the resources it so generously redistributes — the economy does. The more government smothers economic activity under public spending, taxes, borrowing and regulation, the less there is for everyone — those who rely on the government’s safety net and those who don’t.

Balanced budgets are still the soundest benchmark for public finance, but how balance is achieved is crucial. The only true and lasting balance comes from limiting government — and that requires limiting government spending.

Patrick Louis Knudsen, a Washington-area writer and visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, served for 20 years on the staff of the House Budget Committee.