- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 11, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Each day, Americans make fiscal decisions that profoundly impact their livelihood. In recent months, most of us have had to tighten our wallets and be more prudent with our spending. Keeping our dollars tucked away, we scarcely look at the faces of our Founding Fathers on our currency. However, during these difficult times, we should be reminded of their great wisdom and the lessons they taught us about building a more perfect union.

Personally, I am reminded of Thomas Jefferson and his concerns about a national debt. In 1808, Jefferson wrote, “The same prudence which in private life would forbid our paying our own money for unexplained projects, forbids it in the disposition of the public moneys.” Two hundred years later, these words should resound in the minds of those in government who seek to spend taxpayer dollars irresponsibly.

Simply put, the U.S. government has a spending problem. Last month, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released their budget and economic forecasts for the nation. They estimate that the 2009 annual deficit will be $1.6 trillion, which would be 11.2 percent of all the goods and services the United States produces. The report paints an equally grim picture of the future financial state of our country, with projected cumulative deficits of more than $9 trillion over the next 10 years.

There is no question that in the long term, this deficit poses grave consequences to our nation - threatening our economy, our national security and our place as the world leader. Deficits of the size we are facing are simply unsustainable. If our deficits continue to rise, more and more of the national income will have to be used to service this debt until eventually we will be forced either to monetize it or to default on our loans. The consequences of either of these options would be disastrous; the U.S. could face record levels of inflation, which in turn would decrease the value of the dollar, or we could lose credibility throughout the world by reneging on promises to repay our loans.

This tradition of spending more than we can afford is certainly not new in Congress. Both Democrats and Republicans have played a hand in creating the $11.8 trillion debt we face. While both parties are guilty of building this mountain of debt we find ourselves under, the good news is that Congress has the power to change course and halt the precedent for out-of-control spending we have set.

The House of Representatives operates under a pay-as-you-go rule (Paygo), meaning that legislation must be either “budget neutral” or include an offset for the cost of the proposal. However, this rule is often waived. For example, Paygo was waived 12 times by the House leadership during the 110th Congress, exempting $420.1 billion in non-offset deficit increases. With the national debt at a record high, we must ensure that the 111th Congress does not follow this dangerous precedent of allowing a few House leaders to waive the Paygo rule. It is essential that any member of Congress have the power to force a vote on this important issue. At this time, individual members are helpless in efforts to stop spending.

For this reason, I have introduced a resolution that would require Congress to pay for any legislation passed in the House of Representatives before the legislation could be adopted. My resolution would amend the rules of the House to require that the Paygo rule be upheld. With the adoption of this resolution, any member could raise a point of order on the House floor if legislation comes to the floor and is paid for by borrowing additional money. Once a point of order has been made, the member could require the House to vote on whether or not the Paygo rule should be waived. This would ensure that taxpayers are aware anytime Congress chooses to increase federal spending and the size of the national debt. Members of Congress who choose to vote to increase our debt must be held accountable to their constituents.

During these tough economic times, Americans across the country have been forced to cut back on spending to make ends meet. I believe the federal government should be required to do the same thing. It is essential that Congress curb its runaway spending habits before our national debt becomes an insurmountable burden for future generations. It’s time for the buck to stop in Congress, once and for all. My legislation is the first step to stopping irresponsible spending in Washington.

Rep. Edward Whitfield is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Kentucky.

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