My first priority is to address our enormous debt. Last fiscal year, the federal government ran a $1.4 trillion budget deficit – the largest in our nation's history. Under the budget proposed by the President in February, this budget deficit will be even larger – $1.6 trillion – for this fiscal year. As a result, the federal government is currently borrowing 43 cents out of every dollar it spends. Every dollar we borrow is a dollar plus interest that is added to our National Debt that we must pay back. Our National Debt already exceeds $12 trillion and is expected to top $14 trillion by the end of the year.
Unless we change our ways fundamentally, we are dooming our country to a future of high taxes, slow economic growth, and quite possibly, bankruptcy. I believe it is morally indefensible for us to saddle future generations of Americans with such an enormous burden just to subsidize our standard of living today. We need a Balanced Budget Amendment, a constitutional line item veto, spending caps, and other budget reforms to bring our fiscal house back in order.
We also need to start talking about where in the budget we are going to cut spending in order to balance our budget. In Washington, we have to apply the same standards to the federal budget that every family and business applies to theirs. In tough times, we have to sacrifice, prioritize, and learn to say “no,” no matter how challenging the political consequences may be. This will continue to be my top priority in Washington.
As North Carolinians know well, our economy continues to face enormous challenges. People and employers are still having a difficult time getting credit credit that allows them to make large purchases, buy equipment, invest for the future, and fund their daily business operations. As a result, many businesses have gone under or are struggling to stay afloat, workers have lost their jobs and their livelihoods, and families continue to bear the brunt of the economic storm. I believe that the top priority for Congress should be getting our economy going again.
Unfortunately, last year’s Economic Stimulus bill – which cost taxpayers nearly a trillion dollars in government programs and projects – was not the right approach to solving our economic problems. I believe we need to be focusing on big-picture ideas that will actually provide an economic environment that spawns the innovation and investment needed to sustain long-term economic growth and good-paying jobs.
I believe game-changing ideas, like fundamental tax reform, are key to meeting this goal. Our current, complex income tax system punishes work and savings, has very high compliance costs, and rewards those special interests and lobbyists who are able to insert tax breaks that just benefit themselves at the expense of everyone else. This is not fair, and it’s not good for our economy. That’s why I believe the time has come for proposals like the Fair Tax Act (S. 296) or other tax reforms that would increase the savings and investment needed to fuel economic growth and job creation into the future.
To spur the economy in the short-term, I also support broad-based tax relief, such as sales tax holidays, that would drive consumer purchases and help keep businesses going. I recently introduced an amendment called the Sales Tax Holiday Act (S.AMDT. 3389 to H.R. 4213) that would provide Americans with a 10-day sales tax holiday.
Another part of the solution for keeping jobs in our state is to make sure that our fair trade laws are being enforced. Before the United States enters into trade agreements with foreign countries, we must work to ensure the agreements represent a fair deal for American workers and businesses. We also must confront other countries directly and swiftly when they break the rules.
To help North Carolina specifically, I have hosted economic development workshops and summits focused on small business development, entrepreneurship, the federal grants process, community colleges, and other related topics throughout the state. These workshops are designed to promote economic development and to make North Carolina more competitive in the future. Since 2005, I have hosted over 20 separate events focused on some aspect of economic development.
Our enormous budget deficit makes the case painfully clear that we must prioritize federal spending. I continue to believe strongly that funding our troops and our veterans should remain a top federal priority. When we send these young men and women into battle, we have an obligation to make sure they have the equipment that they need to accomplish their mission and to return home safely. We also owe our veterans the benefits they have earned through their sacrifice on behalf of our nation. I will continue to make them a priority.
As for lower priorities, I believe there are many places where we can trim the federal fat – from reducing government administrative expenses to ending duplicative, obsolete, or unnecessary federal programs. In fact, there are many areas of the government that have been proposed for elimination or reduction in recent months. Unfortunately, the current Congress refuses to make these cuts. For example, in January, my colleague Senator Tom Coburn offered an amendment that would have consolidated more than 640 duplicative federal programs, which would have saved taxpayers approximately $120 billion. Unfortunately, his amendment was defeated in the Senate by a vote of 33-61.
Another place to find hundreds of billions of dollars in savings is to rescind “stimulus” dollars that have not yet been obligated and use that money to pay down the debt. We should also end the TARP program permanently. Unfortunately, there are many in Washington who are attempting to use TARP as a permanent slush fund to spend even more money. I believe we need to kill TARP and direct any repaid our unused TARP funds to debt reduction. I recently joined with Senator John Thune to offer legislation to do just that, but it was also defeated by a Senate vote this year.
In addition, I recently joined with Senator Jim Inhofe to introduce the Honest Expenditure Limitation Program Act (S. 3095), which would impose a cap to freeze domestic discretionary spending at the level it was at in 2008. If enacted, this legislation would save taxpayers almost $900 billion over the next ten years – this is $634 billion more in savings than proposed by President Obama’s domestic spending freeze. Like many other worthy proposals to cut spending, this legislation was also defeated by a recent Senate vote.
Unfortunately, rather than cutting existing programs, Congress is going in the opposite direction and creating new government programs and commitments that we simply cannot afford. I believe Americans need to send a clear message to Congress that they do not want more programs and more spending. Americans want Congress to balance the budget and to make the difficult choices that are necessary to set our finances straight. For my part, I will continue to make these tough decisions. Our children and grandchildren deserve better than to inherit a bankrupt country.