- - Sunday, November 27, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

One thing did not change on Tuesday, Nov. 8 — our unsustainable and exploding nearly $20 trillion national debt. While America was focused on an unconventional presidential election season, the federal debt increased $587 billion in Fiscal Year 2016 alone. Last year, our federal government spent $223 billion, or 6 percent of all discretionary spending, just on debt interest payments. On our current track, we will spend more on debt interest than we do on our national defense within 10 years.

The results of this month’s election made it resoundingly clear that the American people no longer accept business as usual in Washington. There is a clear responsibility to rejuvenate a moribund economy with expansive reforms to our overpriced health care system, our overcomplicated tax code, and our overreaching regulatory state. Sweeping changes are on their way to Washington. But even though the federal debt wasn’t a major focus during the presidential campaign, to create lasting economic health for the American economy, the federal deficit crisis must be addressed.

Some view the election as a mandate for increased deficit spending. A so-called “stimulus” is the furthest thing from the proper prescription to our sluggish economy. If deficit-spending were the key to economic growth, President Obama would have overseen the most prosperous economy in American history. Instead, his presidency will go down as the only one in a century without a single year of at least three percent annual economic growth; the total amount of debt accumulated by all the past administrations nearly doubled during just this one administration.

Under current policies, our annual deficits are projected to rise above $1 trillion by the end of this decade. The Baby Boomer generation is turning 65 at a pace of 10,000 individuals per day, which means the retirement age group will double in size between 2010 and 2040. Congress should have spent the last 25 years preparing for this predictable retirement tidal wave.

We need tax reform because our convoluted code is littered with special interest carve-outs throughout its 74,000 pages and it encourages trillions of dollars of private money from U.S.-based companies to stay overseas. We should continue to modernize our infrastructure — such as the $305 billion highway bill that Congress passed last December — to facilitate connectivity and commerce in the 21st century. But we must also focus on deficit reduction and regulatory simplification so the private sector can grow our economy. Just last year, the Federal Register added more than 81,000 pages of new regulations and federal instructions.

There is a way to reduce duplicative and wasteful spending of our tax dollars while reining in the federal government back into its clear constitutional role. Today, I will release my second annual government waste report, titled “Federal Fumbles: 100 Ways The Government Dropped The Ball.” It will identify $250 billion in wasteful and inefficient federal spending, as well as solutions to each example of inefficiency.

Deficit reduction and economic growth are not mutually exclusive. Years of Washington-knows-best dictates must go by the wayside to be replaced with policies that allow our businesses to innovate and grow, our entrepreneurs to create startups, and our consumers to access affordable goods and services in a competitive market. This includes repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, curtailing the impacts that Dodd-Frank has had on the availability of private credit, predictable permitting, and stopping Washington micromanagement of our businesses with harmful regulations, like the looming overtime rule.

Tax reform is essential, but it is only one tool in the tool kit for genuine economic reform. In the first days of 2017, Congress should use the Congressional Review Act to put on the new president’s desk immediate repeals of the harmful “midnight regulations” that the current administration finalized in the last six months of his presidency. The “Affordable” Care Act has forced law-abiding middle class citizens to choose between breaking the law and paying a tax penalty at the end of the year or paying for healthcare they cannot afford every single month. Obamacare must be repealed and replaced in the first six months of 2017.

Washington can’t address our debt through budget cuts alone. We need strong economic growth that leads to higher incomes and more tax revenue. Future interest payments on our current debt spending equates to us stealing from the next generation’s ability to use those dollars for infrastructure, national defense, or any other essential governmental expense.

Washington DC don’t forget about the looming and staggering federal debt — $20 trillion in national debt that has not changed. The clock is ticking louder on the most predictable debt crisis in history.

James Lankford is a Republican U.S. senator from Oklahoma.

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