- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2000

As you know, my general view is that the first priority is to get the debt down, because it has very major, positive economic effects… . But if it turns out that it is politically infeasible for all sorts of obvious political reasons, that my choice is that for long-term fiscal stability we are far better off cutting taxes than raising spending.

Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Alan Greenspan testifying before the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, Feb. 23.

On Oct. 1 a new fiscal year will begin. Yet, once again Congress and the administration are frozen in place, haggling over the final shape of next year's budget.

The president has road blocked our bipartisan attempts to provide modest tax relief by ending the cruel marriage tax penalty and the unjust death tax. Conversely, we are opposed to his plans to deplete the federal budget surplus on a host of new Washington spending programs.

Time is short. And rather than stalling we should be searching for solutions. Instead of becoming entangled in a political Kabuki dance, we should seize upon Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Alan Greenspan's advice and use it to construct a road map that will help us avoid an unnecessary budgetary pileup this year.

It is time to move forward toward reforms, not roadblocks. For progress, not politics. It is time to find a fair middle ground.

To that end, the two of us have offered a profound but basic plan that will allow us to complete the peoples' work consistent with Mr. Greenspan's recommendation to reduce our $5.7 trillion national debt.

Call it the "90 percent" solution.

The proposal is this: Let's take 90 percent of next year's $270 federal budget surplus 90 cents out of every surplus dollar and use it to pay off debt while protecting the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.

That still leaves 10 percent of the $270 billion surplus approximately $27 billion to boost our already substantial $600 billion commitment to our national priorities in discretionary spending. Specifically, we will use the $27 billion to strengthen education with the flexibility, funding and support to give our kids the world's best schools, providing an immediate prescription drug coverage to seniors in need, and granting some modest tax-relief (such as expanding IRAs and eliminating the telephone tax begun to fund the Spanish-American War) to working Americans.

Overall, our plan represents a simple, but balanced, approach to budgeting. It protects the Social Security surplus; strengthens Medicare, including a timely prescription drug benefit; reduces the national debt; provides some measure of tax relief; and funds important national priorities such as defense, education and health research.

This is a positive plan that shouldn't be that hard to accomplish if everyone enters into it in good faith. It's a sound approach. It builds on the fiscal discipline that has resulted in our paying off more than $350 billion during the past two years.

It is also consistent with the wishes of the American people who, in poll after poll, have voiced their support for significant debt reduction.

Moreover, our plan is consistent with the advice nonpartisan taxpayer watchdog groups, such as the Concord Coalition, which suggests that: "Paying down the publicly held debt will increase national savings, which will help grow the economy and make future cost burdens easier to bear" and that "the worst thing we could do would be to give it [the surplus] away … on a package of election-year goodies."

We can let the bean-counters disagree about how long it will take to ultimately eliminate the entire debt. We can let the American people decide this November what we want to do with future surpluses.

For public servants like us, however, it should be more important to get started and get results. While we can't predict the future, we can control the here and now and seize this opportunity to pay down the debt by more than a half-a-trillion dollars, that's trillion with a 't', by the end of next year.

We presented the "90 Percent" plan to the president last week. He indicated that paying down the debt is a priority but that spending requests are piling up and "whether we can do it this year or not depends upon what the various spending commitments are."

We hope this doesn't mean the president vetoed the marriage penalty and death tax only so he could spend more money in Washington. We have succeeded in balancing the budget and helping spur economic progress in part because during the past six years we have held the growth of federal spending to its lowest level in 30 years.

These are prosperous times. But, with all due respect, that doesn't mean we should abandon the fiscal discipline that has brought us to this point. Now is not the time to unleash a new round of uncontrolled federal spending that could jeopardize our economic progress.

Our "90 Percent solution" represents a fair middle ground.

It is offered in good faith. It is also offered in the hope that while we may not agree on all aspects of the budget, we can, at the very least, do something for our children and grandchildren on which we all can agree reduce the debt that we will leave behind.

Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, is the majority leader of the U.S. Senate and Rep. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, is speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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