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Pay-as-you-go budgeting becomes law; will balance budget, Skelton says
Pay-as-you-go budgeting becomes law; will balance budget, Skelton says

Congressman Ike Skelton
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Feb. 22, 2010) — Paying the bills on time and balancing the budget are sensible principles that any family or business must embrace. As a responsible steward of taxpayers’ money, the government should too. Sadly, this has not been the case over the past decade. Since 2000, in fact, the American budget has gone from record surpluses to record deficits.

This is simply not acceptable.

Congress and the Administration have an obligation to produce sensible, bipartisan solutions that will financially change the direction of our country.

The growing American debt burden, caused by years of bipartisan failures to prudently address our nation’s fiscal challenges, deeply troubles me. While there is plenty of blame to go around, it is important to explain the context of our nation’s current budget crisis.

By the end of the 1990s, sustained economic expansion and bipartisan work in Congress to balance the budget had produced large federal surpluses. Especially effective “pay-as-you-go” budget rules, or PAYGO, forced Congress to pay for what it bought without borrowing money. In short, PAYGO required Congress to cut a dollar if it wanted to spend a dollar elsewhere. The federal budget was balanced, and America entered the 21st Century fiscally sound.

But in 2001, these surpluses disappeared as the then-Congressional majority abandoned PAYGO rules, enacted tax cuts that primarily benefited wealthy Americans and were not paid for in the budget, increased spending on most government programs, and established a popular, yet very expensive, Medicare prescription drug entitlement program without offsetting its cost. To pay for these programs, the government borrowed money. These fiscal choices were ill-advised and, as anyone can understand, quickly brought deficits back to the federal budget.

To make matters worse, necessary spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and costly, but necessary, actions to confront the worst economic downturn and financial panic since the Great Depression have added to the deficit. It has now become imperative, as the economy begins to grow, for Congress to return to the sound accounting practices of the 1990s. The first step is to re-establish PAYGO.

I am pleased that Congress and the President have acted to make PAYGO law again. However, as important as enacting PAYGO is, it is only the first of many steps. Cutting non-defense discretionary spending and establishing a bipartisan debt commission, modeled after one created by Ronald Reagan, are other necessary actions. I was pleased to see the President establish such a commission just last week, and I am optimistic it will produce results for the American public.

Restoring America’s fiscal health will be neither quick nor easy, especially since we must be careful not to upset our fragile economic recovery. However, bipartisan solutions can be found, and Congress has taken the first step down the long and difficult road to a balanced budget.

Congressman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) serves as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman Skelton’s website is at www.house.gov/skelton.

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