States Need a REFUND
Congress should authorize them to return federal spending to pay down the debt.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.)


Marco Rubio


While American families everywhere are cutting costs, Washington still can’t seem to rein in its reckless spending, leaving our national debt skyrocketing to the detriment of future generations. This neglect of our fiscal health is unacceptable. It is imperative we begin paying down the debt — starting yesterday.

Excessive and ineffective spending is an important cause of our growing debt, yet states have little say in what happens to federal money if they choose not to spend it. They essentially have two choices: use it, or lose it to someone else. There is no option to stop those funds from being spent elsewhere, which is why I am reintroducing the Returned Exclusively for Unpaid National Debt, or “REFUND,” Act next week in the Senate.

The REFUND Act will allow states to identify and return unwanted federal funds to the federal treasury for the specific purpose of paying down the national debt. This prevents the Treasury from continuing its current practice of spending the returned funds elsewhere, which provides no real incentive for states to turn away federal funds.

The legislation would also end today’s “use it or lose it” mentality, which encourages states to take debt-financed money from Washington. For example, two years ago, the state of Florida was allocated $2.4 billion in federal stimulus funds for a high-speed-railway project, but turned down the money because it would have put the state on the hook for more spending in the long run. The money was then offered under a new bidding process for other states to fund their own high-speed-rail programs. Under the REFUND Act, Florida would have been able to use that money toward paying down our $16 trillion debt.

The national debt is a crushing burden to our children and grandchildren; many state officials and leaders realize this and want to make responsible decisions to help alleviate that burden. These fiscally responsible states should be allowed to divert Washington’s spending spree toward debt reduction and do their part to end the practice of spending money we don’t have.

Allowing states to return unused funds is one of the many ways states can join in rejecting Washington’s dysfunctional culture of borrowing and spending. Many already lead by example, with 49 out of 50 states having some form of a balanced-budget requirement — a measure that is badly needed at the federal level.

The framers of our Constitution knew that state and local governments were better equipped to handle many of our most important issues. While Washington politicians seem to have forgotten how to govern responsibly, the REFUND Act will allow the states to help correct excessive federal spending.

This week, when President Obama announced he would return 5 percent of his salary to the Treasury in solidarity with furloughed workers, we were reminded of the need for Washington to stop the gimmicks and focus on fundamental spending reforms. To show his solidarity with our children and grandchildren, the president should help stop Washington’s spending madness by supporting the REFUND Act and other reforms to reduce our debt.

It’s not too late to set our nation back on a path to economic growth and prosperity. But we can’t right the ship until we stop taking in water. Democrats in Congress seem to have no interest in slowing the damage, as evidenced by their desire to raise the debt ceiling even higher. Now, with the help of the REFUND Act, we can give states a chance to help us slow the steady rise of debt and re-embark on a path toward economic growth and opportunity.

— Marco Rubio represents Florida in the U.S. Senate.