After all of the hoopla about a possible government shutdown, Congress passed legislation to keep the government running through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.
It’s important to put this budget battle in context. The deficit this year is expected to reach $1.6 trillion, the third consecutive year of trillion-plus dollar deficits. By the end of this year, the debt will reach $15 trillion. Forty cents of every dollar that the government spends has to be borrowed.
Yet, many lawmakers continue to fight even the smallest spending cuts for the most parochial of projects. For example, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid railed against Republican efforts to reduce spending, lamenting that such austerity could threaten the annual cowboy poetry festival in his home state. And then there was the hyperbole. Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warned that because of the proposed reduction in spending, “six million seniors are deprived of meals,” a statement the Washington Post said “ranks high on this year’s list of bloviated bluster.”
That Congress and the president agreed on $38 billion in spending cuts is, therefore, a significant accomplishment. To be sure, that number represents a tiny fraction of the federal budget and is much less than many of us would have liked. But it is a start.
No one got everything he wanted. I would have preferred we reduce spending a lot more. But this was the best deal we could get that could pass both chambers of Congress with the threat of a government shutdown.
Aside from their impact on the nation’s fiscal path, the spending cuts have changed the momentum in Congress and altered the conversation about spending. As columnist William McGurn wrote in the Wall Street Journal, during the budget negotiations Speaker Boehner changed the national debate over spending “from ‘stimulus’ and ‘investment’ to ‘how much spending do we need to cut’ — which is why [the president] press[ed] the reset button.”
We need this momentum to take us into the much larger discussion about the 2012 budget and the upcoming vote to increase the debt ceiling. At the center of this discussion will be how Congress can begin to reduce spending in a way that makes a significant impact on the debt. There are some promising proposals out there.
One is a balanced budget amendment, a mechanism to ensure that the federal government has to live within its means each year — just as most American families do.
Another is a constitutional spending limitation at 18 percent of gross domestic product. Eighteen percent is roughly equal to revenue as percent of gross domestic product over last 40 years, so this limit would stop Washington from spending more than it takes in each year.
Third, Senators Corker and McCaskill have sponsored the Commitment to American Prosperity Act, known as the CAP Act, which would cap both mandatory and discretionary spending. It would put all government spending on the table. If enacted, beginning in 2013, the CAP Act would establish federal spending limits that would, over 10 years, reduce spending to 20.6 percent of gross domestic product, which is the average of the last 40 years.
The $38 billion in reduced spending that Congress agreed to is just a start. From billions, we will soon start reducing trillions. Congress must now take long-term and permanent action to reduce spending and bring down the debt.
Sen. Jon Kyl is the Senate Republican Whip and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees. Visit his Web site at www.kyl.senate.gov.