- - Tuesday, May 8, 2018

On Sept. 22, 2011, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen warned: “I believe the single, biggest threat to our national security is debt.”

He’s right — and not the only military or intelligence expert to offer a similar sentiment. The United States of America faces many existential threats from ISIS, rogue nations and illegal immigration. However, our nation encounters no greater menace than our inability to bring our debt under control. This internal, bipartisan recklessness endangers Americans everywhere.

As of May 4, 2018, the public debt stood at $21,037,962,909,322.34. In less than a year, the U.S. saw the national debt surpass $20 trillion (September) and $21 trillion (March). This fiscal year, Congress passed seven short-term spending bills that were signed into law, culminating with a $1.3 trillion omnibus package in March. None of these spending bills balanced the federal budget or cut spending.

Worse still — in passing these short-term spending bills (or continuing resolutions — CR’s), Congress did so without following “regular order,” which allows members of Congress to offer and debate amendments to appropriations bills. These CR’s were crafted by a select few in Congress, away from the majority of members and with little transparency for our constituents.

Many of my colleagues and I have promised to reform, prioritize and cut spending, but have been unable to keep our commitments because of the current warped process that the Legislative Branch currently operates.

The warning signs are clearly visible on Social Security and Medicare. According to projections from their boards of trustees, these programs will be depleted in 2029 and 2034, respectively. Our constituents depend on these funds, yet the programs are facing an uncertain financial future. We must ensure we keep the promises we made to our seniors.

Instead of prioritizing and cutting spending, Congress has repeatedly suspended or extended the debt ceiling to accommodate our egregious spending habits. Congress did that earlier this year in the budget package. We are at risk of defaulting on our debt obligations and jeopardizing America’s economic stability with each of these moves.

The experts have taken notice each time we raise the debt ceiling. On Aug. 5, 2011, Standard & Poor’s reduced the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+. Two Moody’s analysts wrote this year that “rising entitlement costs and rising interest rates will cause the nation’s fiscal position to further erode over the next decade, absent measures to reduce those costs or to raise additional revenues.” Without a targeted effort to balance our budget, our credit rating will continue to plummet, causing the federal government to look to inflation to pay off the debt.

The United States is racing toward a fiscal cliff. We are taking few measures to save ourselves from the fall and ruinous fate once we go over the edge.

Thankfully, President Donald Trump and his administration realize the urgency of this peril. In his National Security Strategy, Mr. Trump highlighted the need to reduce the debt through fiscal responsibility. This year, Secretary of Defense James Mattis warned, “any nation that cannot keep its fiscal house in order eventually cannot maintain its military power.” And Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats stated, “our continued plunge into debt is unsustainable and represents a dire future threat to our economy and to our national security.”

The Trump administration sees this threat for what it is worth. Too few in Congress recognize the danger. It is past time for my colleagues to become serious about balancing our budget and making significant cuts to federal spending. If we do not change our course, we will be part of one of the worst catastrophes this nation has ever experienced: the crash of the American economy and the demise of a superpower.

• Andy Biggs is a Republican U.S. representative from Arizona.

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