Originally Published: October 28, 2009 8:37 p.m.
By the time you read this, our national debt may already have reached an unprecedented milestone.
We are on the verge of owing more than $12 trillion for the first time in American history. That's almost $39,000 for every man, woman and child in this country, and we are falling deeper and deeper in debt each day.
Getting folks back to work remains our top priority, but the situation we face is not sustainable. Left unchecked, our record debt could bring economic recovery to a standstill, interest rates could skyrocket and more and more of our tax dollars would go to interest payments to creditors in China and around the world instead of to valuable programs at home.
It is time to say enough is enough and take direct action to slash spending and pay down the debt.
This will be a hard job, and it will start with some difficult decisions about what we can actually afford in this economy. Folks in greater Arizona know how to tighten their belts and make money go further when times are tough, but Congress never seems to follow our example. That has to change, and I launched my "Do More With Less" Initiative to bring the fiscal discipline of our small towns to Washington.
As part of the campaign, I have supported billions in spending cuts, crossing the aisle to stand up for restraint during the downturn. I also voted against two appropriations bills that increased spending on government operations. If we are going to restore the fiscal balance, projects like refurbishing the U.S. Capitol will just have to wait.
Along with these cuts, we have to use our money more effectively and efficiently. That's part of why I introduced legislation to end the "black liquor" tax break. Paper companies have used this loophole to claim billions in corporate subsidies since 2007, while putting recycled paper mills at a competitive disadvantage. The loophole has wasted as much as $10 billion and caused the loss of more than 100 jobs in my district alone, and I am leading the fight to shut it down.
I also wrote to the Treasury Secretary demanding that he use returned bank bailout money to pay down the debt, and I later co-sponsored a bipartisan bill to enact my proposal and decrease the debt ceiling by the same amount. Alongside those efforts, I am supporting the crackdown on tax evaders hiding money overseas and am pushing to hold government contractors accountable for cost overruns and poor performance.
Make no mistake: None of these steps are silver bullets that will restore fiscal balance on their own. Our historic debt level is the result of 10 years of both parties being irresponsible with taxpayer dollars, and we cannot make up for $12 trillion worth of bad decisions overnight. We need a budget plan that works for the long term, and we need to start developing it now.
The core of that plan should be setting the right priorities for our spending. We must ensure that we are able to defend our interests at home and abroad and ensure that we keep our promises to our veterans and seniors before we fund the luxury projects.
Beyond that, we need to fundamentally change the way we do business in Washington. I am an original co-sponsor of the new pay-as-you-go legislation, which requires that for every dollar of new spending, Congress cuts a dollar from another program. It seems obvious to us in Arizona when you're living on a tight budget, you need to make realistic choices about your spending. The federal government has to adopt that same attitude to get the debt under control.
We face a tremendous challenge, and resolving it will take time, discipline and commitment. But perhaps what's most important is it will take bipartisanship. We cannot let partisan bickering or finger-pointing block our path. Democrats and Republicans share the blame for us landing at this new low point, and we all must share the responsibility of cleaning up this mess. By working together to make needed changes, we can get this country back on track. Getting stuck in the same old gridlock will give us only the same disastrous results.