Texas Times: Reality and the Federal Budget

By U.S. Sen. John Cornyn | Mar 19, 2008

The late William F. Buckley once observed that "The spirit of Christmas extends throughout the congressional season, and a penny here, a penny there, results in $100 billion per year deficits."

As it turns out, Buckley was optimistic. Since he wrote those words 25 years ago, the projected federal deficit has ballooned to $410 billion.

In early March, the majority party in Congress again proved how disconnected it has become from ordinary American citizens. It approved a five-year budget that paid little attention to fiscal realities.

When a Texas family plans a budget, it starts with anticipated income. How much will we take in? A family knows that it must live within its means, or face serious consequences.

But the federal government has no such constraint. It starts by thinking first about "How much do we want to spend?" If the books don't balance, Washington can either print more money or borrow without limit, and pass the debt along to our children and grandchildren.

The budget approved by the U.S. Senate reaffirmed that the Congressional majority is firmly committed to two words: tax and spend.

For the second straight year, the majority imposed another tax increase-and the total tax hike is now $1.2 trillion over five years. This means that the tax bill of 43 million families will jump by $2,300. Among those seeing their taxes go up are the middle class, seniors, small business owners and individuals making as little as $31,850.

In the meantime, there was little attention to cutting spending. Even though entitlement spending jumps by $488 billion over five years, nothing was done to curb it. The Senate voted down a one-year moratorium I supported on Congressional earmarks, projects sponsored by individual legislators. Spending for discretionary programs will increase by $210 billion over the administration's budget proposal.

At times, this budget blueprint also pretends that reality no longer exists. It pretends that we won't need any funds to fight the war on terrorism in Iraq after next January. It pretends that the Alternative Minimum Tax, which will soon hit more middle-class families, can be ignored after this year. It continues to ignore the $66 trillion in unfunded entitlement obligations our nation faces over 75 years.

In short, it's business as usual. As one Senator put it, borrowing a line from a TV commercial, these tax and spending ploys are so transparent that "even a caveman gets it."

Many sectors of our national economy face serious challenges. In these uncertain times, I would hope that both political parties would agree on the need to balance the federal budget, expand job opportunities, help working families and seniors, and secure America's economic future.

But it's clear there are significant differences on how to achieve these goals. Conservatives want to cut taxes to expand the budgets of American families, and cut spending. Liberals want to raise taxes to expand the federal government's budget, and even opposed an amendment I proposed to slow this. And they want to increase spending as well.

My preferred approach is to keep both taxes and spending low. We should allow Americans to spend, save and invest their own money. This is the most effective way to create jobs, keep the flow of goods and services moving, and boost the economy.

We cannot afford to continue our current, unsustainable policies. It is wrong to saddle future generations with this unmanageable debt. Like any family, the government can fund the nation's priorities such as national defense, infrastructure and some important services, while being fiscally responsible. But this approach will require far more discipline than we've been able to generate so far.

Sen. Cornyn serves on the Armed Services, Judiciary and Budget Committees. In addition, he is Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee's Immigration, Border Security and Refugees subcommittee and the Armed Services Committee's Airland subcommittee.

For Sen. Cornyn's previous Texas Times columns: http://cornyn.senate.gov/column.

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