Fiscal responsibility is about more than balancing the nation’s checkbook; it is about keeping our promises to our seniors and our young people and promoting job creation and prosperity.
Without fiscal discipline, America will pass on a legacy of debt, fail to meet the demands the baby-boom generation will place on Social Security and Medicare, and undermine access to capital, the lifeblood of new and growing businesses.
In 2007, the new Democratic Congress began to restore our nation’s fiscal health while inheriting a fiscal challenge of historic proportions.
President Bush and the Republican Congress turned a $5.6 trillion, 10-year surplus inherited from the Clinton administration into a $3 trillion deficit. Thanks largely to the cost of the war in Iraq and the Republican penchant for tax cuts for the wealthy, the deficit ballooned to $248 billion in 2006.
When Democrats promised a new direction for America in the 2006 campaign, we pledged to begin a new era of investing in American jobs and strengthening our national security - all while restoring the principle of fiscal responsibility. and we have.
On day one of the 110th Congress, we restored pay-as-you-go budget rules that helped balance the budget and spurred the record economic growth of 1990s.
Last year, we achieved many historic victories for the American people: we implemented the 9/11 commission recommendation to make America safer; enacted the largest investment in veterans’ health care in history; passed landmark energy legislation to increase fuel efficiency and reduce our dependence on foreign oil; invested in innovation with a new generation of math and science teachers and a new commitment to basic science research; and, we cut taxes for the middle class and those who aspire to it. We did all of this and more without raising taxes on the american people or adding a single penny to the deficit.
The simple concept of generational responsibility demands that our children not pay for this generation’s actions. Yet the Bush administration policies were paid for by adding some $3.7 trillion to the federal debt, or about $48,600 for each American family of four.
Seniors and baby boomers should be concerned about continued deficits as well. Had the Bush administration used the projected $5.6 trillion budget surplus wisely, it could have shored up Social Security and Medicare and met other pressing needs. While Social Security is not in crisis, stresses on Medicare threaten the health and economic security of future retirees. The restoration of budget discipline will help position us to meet this challenge.
As we proved in the 1990s, the benefits of budget discipline can also be felt by hardworking Americans across the country. Between 1993 and 2000, the economy generated more than 200,000 new jobs each month. Yet during a Bush administration that abandoned pay-as-you-go budgeting, we have seen the american economy falter. Since 2001, the nation has lost 3.5 million manufacturing jobs alone.
Even after the failures of the past seven years, President Bush and Congressional Republicans refuse to adopt more fiscally responsible policies. They reject Democratic efforts to fully offset all new spending or tax cuts and have proposed billions more in spending - much of it on the war in Iraq and tax cuts for the wealthy - without even attempting to pay it.
The record of Republican economic and budget policy since the Reagan administration provides ample evidence of its shortcomings.
In 1993, a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress inherited a sluggish economy and massive budget deficit from the Bush White House but met the challenge by making difficult choices and smart investments that paid dividends for the American people and our economy.
History will have to repeat itself.
Over the past 18 months, the Democratic Congress has begun putting the brakes on six years of fiscal recklessness. In 2009, we look forward to having a partner in the White House who shares our goal of restoring America’s fiscal strength. Our nation’s future depends on it.
The author is Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.